Proposals would have reversed some of the reforms crafted during last year’s General Assembly sessions.
RICHMOND – Gun reform activists had reason to celebrate in 2020. During what is considered Virginia’s most progressive legislative year, the General Assembly approved several bills tightening up gun restrictions. But, as the first month of 2021 came to a close, several gun rights enthusiasts asked Assembly members Tuesday to reverse that trend.
“We’d appreciate a little bit of favoritism,” said guns rights activist Vic Nicholls. “Or at the very least impartiality from the General Assembly. I have sat here and watched bills pass for people here illegally and the like. But we keep getting our rights restricted.”
While the House’s Public Safety Firearms Subcommittee sidelined many of the bills for a later date, the issue of gun control in Virginia is still ongoing. Just last week, several of these same groups at the meeting were heavily armed at the Capitol building.
Overall, both sides were fighting for the same thing: how do we make Virginians feel safe? But, the way these sides approached these problems couldn’t be more different. On one hand, people who want less gun restrictions argue that having more guns will ultimately make people safer. While people on the opposition say that it’s more gun restrictions that will keep the public safe.
Now, it’s up to lawmakers to figure out where Virginia’s gun laws are going.
READ MORE: Who Does Richmond’s Gun Ban Actually Apply To?
No Permits for Concealed Weapons?
During the meeting, the committee discussed one of the most controversial bills of the morning: HB 1773. If the committee moved the bill forward, it would have allowed people to carry concealed guns without a permit. Advocates argue that this is more for convenience than anything else.
“It would allow women to put it in their purses or men to put it in their coats without the need of getting a permit,” said Del. Glenn Davis. However, gun reform advocates argue that this convenience isn’t worth potentially endangering people in the process. Right now, it’s non-negotiable on whether or not someone needs a permit to carry a concealed weapon. Several people argued that this rule is not only in place for residents, but for law enforcement as well.
“Concealed carry permits give law enforcement some level of comfort,” said Laurie Haas with the Virginia Center of Public Safety. “It gives them some level of comfort with a person they could run into on a traffic stop. With that permit, it gives law enforcement some level of security about who that person is and what they have on them.”
The committee basically killed the bill for this session, passing it by indefinitely in a 6 to 2 vote.
Exempt from Local Laws
Right now, Virginia allows concealed handguns as long as you have a permit. But, there are some caveats. If there’s a public place, like a park or a school, that has rules against carrying a concealed gun, then it doesn’t matter if you have a permit. You’re not allowed to carry your gun on the premises. Some gun advocates want to change that.
Advocates argue that if police officers are exempt from following local laws, why can’t they get the same treatment? However, according to reform advocates, it’s not that simple. Right now, if you don’t meet the requirements for a Virginia permit, you can go to another state with looser restrictions and get a permit there. This is called “permit shopping.” If passed, this bill would have made it easier for “permit shoppers” to carry their guns around.
“We cannot give people like that extra benefits when we know that they probably wouldn’t be a concealed carry holder if they stuck to Virginia law,” said Andrew Goddard with the Virginia Center of Public Safety.
Overall, many of those against the bill find it unnecessary and potentially dangerous. More specifically, many of the people who own parks and public service centers in Virginia want to have their wishes respected. If they don’t want concealed guns on the premises, that should be the end of the argument. No exceptions.
Becky Bowers-Lanier, a representative of the Virginia Association of Community Services Board, is against the bill for this reason.
“(The VASCB) provides services for people with mental illness, substance abuse disorders and developmental disabilities. One of the last things we want is anyone carrying a gun, concealed or otherwise, on a publicly owned property by the VASCB,” said Bowers-Lanier.
Are Concealed Guns Even Necessary?
The main argument of the meeting was basically whether or not people carrying concealed weapons make people safer. After all, they say a good guy with a gun beats a bad guy with a gun. While it’s sound in theory, gun control advocates argue the data implies the opposite.
“This whole idea of defensive gun use is blown way out of proportion,” said Goddard. “It’s a wonderful idea in theory. But in practice there are only about 2,000 proven defensive gun uses each year.”
According to Goddard, this pales in comparison to the 40,000 gun deaths and the 80,000 gun injuries that happen each year.
“This doesn’t even include the countless people who are intimidated by guns,” said Goddard. He also argued that while allowing concealed handguns in Virginia was supposed to reduce crime, the crime rate has not gone down.
“Carrying concealed weapons is illegal in Virginia,” said Goddard. “The only permitted exception is handguns. The concept was sold as a method of reducing crime and enhancing the carrier’s personal safety. It didn’t work. This experiment in public policing has failed.”
Right now, Virginia’s property crime rate is 16.7, with their violent crime rate being even lower than that at 2.0%. That’s 1.7% less than the national average. And while Virginia’s crime rate is low, over the past five years, Virginia has not seen a drastic decline in crime rates.
Are Gun Laws Enforced Equally?
Nicholls raised a very interesting point in her argument for looser gun restrictions. She questioned if police officers would enforce these laws equally?
We saw this discrimination a little over a week ago. On Jan. 18, several armed militias, second amendment advocates and white supremacists groups marched downtown. The city even put in place a gun ban in preparation for the march. But, police officers only confiscated one gun that day: a Black man’s at a completely different protest.
“All this law does is go after minorities more and more,” said Nicholls in reference to HB 2310. “I understand their reactions when you vote for things like this.”
And if Virginia police officers can’t even enforce a simple gun ban equally, what is going to happen when more laws are passed? The data and history show that it doesn’t look good for Black and brown people. Historically, gun laws have incredibly racist origins, dating back to late 1800s during the Reconstruction Era. And many of these laws only got worse as time went on, all the way up to the 90s.
To this day, many Black liberation militant groups are also fighting for looser gun restrictions. On Lobby Day, groups like BLM 757 came out with their guns alongside these pro-gun groups.
“We have to be able to protect our family. We have to be able to make sure that my kids see the next day,” said BLM 757 leader Japhari Jones at the Jan. 18 march. “We’ve just come out here to speak our peace.”
READ MORE: ‘We’re Not The Opposite’ : Some BLM Groups Support Gun Rights on Lobby Day
All bills the committee passed by indefinitely are basically dead for this session. That includes the previously mentioned HB 1773 and HB 1793. For now, the committee will bookmark these bills and take a look at them at a later date. The committee’s has not listed their next meeting, but when it’s up, it will be listed here.
Through their website, you can livestream the meeting or even sign up to comment and express your own opinion.
If you’d like to reach out to a member of the committee, you can find their contact information here.
Arianna Coghill is a content producer with Dogwood. You can reach her at [email protected].