State Sen. Bill DeSteph's opposition to gun safety bills raises concerns over conflict of interest

By Keya Vakil
June 26, 2019

State Sen. Bill DeSteph (R-Virginia Beach) indicated he has little interest in reforming the state’s gun safety laws, even after his city was the site of a tragic mass shooting that left 12 people dead.

A new report from ThinkProgress offers background on his position and hints at a possible conflict of interest.

DeSteph holds a federal license to sell firearms, and in 2009, when he was a Virginia Beach city councilman, he sought a permit from the city to sell guns out of his own home.

Records from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives analyzed by Think Progress show that in 2014 DeSteph acquired another license that allows firearms dealers to sell handguns and — if they pay a special tax — machine guns and other destructive devices.

According to those same records, DeSteph has a registered business called Beach NFA associated with his license, which has the same address as DeSteph’s district office in Virginia Beach.

DeSteph’s spokesperson told ThinkProgress that the Senator had been public about his license, which is true; the issue has been covered in some newspapers.

But questions still linger around DeSteph’s potential conflict of interest.

DeSteph’s Democratic opponent, Missy Cotter Smasal has been quick to point out this conflict as well and how it might be coloring his approach to gun legislation.

“He is a registered gun dealer and sells them out of his home. While he dithers, refusing to legislate, and profits by selling guns, people’s lives are at risk,” Smasal said.

DeSteph could always recuse himself from votes where a conflict of interest may be present, but has not done so in the past when votes have occurred that might conflict with his firearms license and sales business.

ThinkProgress notes that in 2016, DeSteph helped pass two bills that impacted restrictions on firearms sales. 

DeSteph’s position is likely to come under further scrutiny when the General Assembly convenes for a special session on July 9. Democrats want to prioritize reforming the state’s lax gun laws, but Republicans will set the agenda and appear unlikely to entertain any significant reforms. 

What that means for DeSteph in November is uncertain, but Smasal continues to highlight his inaction on gun violence in the wake of the Virginia Beach shooting.

”Our current state senator is calling for thoughts and prayers while he has failed to take any action to prevent gun violence in his six years in Richmond.”

Photo © VCU Capital News Service

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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