Virginia Assembly Bans Guns at Polling Places

By Brian Carlton

February 19, 2021

The bill by Del. Mark Levine makes it illegal to bring a gun within 40 feet of a polling place.

RICHMOND-Guns won’t be allowed in any Virginia polling places this year. The General Assembly made that clear Thursday, as the Senate signed off on HB 2081. The bill, which previously passed the House, now goes to Gov. Ralph Northam for his signature.

Del. Mark Levine’s plan bans all firearms inside polling places, with exceptions for law enforcement and retired law enforcement officials. It also puts a 40-foot buffer around the building. Before this, you couldn’t approach a voter within 40 feet of the polling place and now you can’t bring a gun within 40 feet of an operational polling site.

Now some of Virginia’s polling places already have this, because schools and places of worship ban guns. Both of those double as polling places on Election Day. 

However, other polling sites allow guns on site, especially if it’s on private property. Should Virginia lawmakers be telling people what to do on private property? Multiple senators raised that question in debate. 

“There are a handful of [polling] places in Virginia that aren’t schools or aren’t churches,” said Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham). “In my area, we’ve got a Woodmen of the World privately owned facility. What we are doing is creating a situation in many of these privately owned polling places.” 

The concern was a bit different for Sen. Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield). One of five Republican candidates for governor this year, Chase asked why the Assembly was going after law-abiding citizens.

“My biggest concern is for those of us who concealed carry and we’re going to the polls to vote,” Chase said. “We have to disarm before we vote.” 

Drawing Support

The bill passed in the Senate by a 21-18 vote. You can see who voted on which side here. But while it raised questions, the bill also drew support from groups like Brady United. The anti-gun violence nonprofit has been a supporter from the start. Putting out a statement on Twitter after the vote, Brady United president Kris Brown shaped the ban as a way for people to feel safe. 

“No one should ever be threatened with guns while exercising their right to vote,” Brown wrote. 

The issue came up last fall, after former President Donald Trump asked supporters to “go into the polls and watch very carefully,” claiming the election would feature widespread fraud. Several militia members claimed they would do that, but none of them actually showed up on Election Day.

“This bill protects both voters and election workers from intimidation,” Levine wrote in a Twitter post after the vote. “Those with guns don’t make the rules. Voters do.” 

The concept is not exactly uncommon. Places like Mississippi, Georgia, Louisiana, Texas, Arizona, Missouri, Ohio and Florida all have versions of the same law in place. 

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