Virginia Senate Dems Advance New Gun Safety Bills in Wake of UVA and Newport News Shootings

By Meghin Moore

January 27, 2023

Earlier this week, a panel from the Democratic-led Virginia Senate voted to advance legislation related to gun safety, ranging from a bill that would require adults to keep guns safely locked up and away from any children in the household to restrictions on the sale of assault-style weapons, as well as one that would specify in Virginia state law that firearms are banned at public higher education institutions. 

The legislation comes in the wake after the November shooting at the University of Virginia (UVA) where two people were injured and three members of the university’s football team were killed, the November shooting at a Chesapeake Walmart that left six people, including a 16-year-old, dead, as well as an incident at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News where a six-year-old shot and wounded Abby Zwerner, a first-grade teacher. 

Firearm Storage Bill

Senate Bill (SB) 1139 was introduced by Democratic Sen. Jennifer Boysko and involves the storage of firearms in a residence where minors may be present. Text of the bill states that anybody over the age of 18 in a residence with children should “store such firearm unloaded in a locked container, compartment, or cabinet and to store all ammunition in a separate locked container, compartment, or cabinet.” Additionally, the bill states that the key or combination to the locked storage areas should be inaccessible to any minor.

Gun dealers would also have to post notices in their stores to remind customers about the consequences improper gun storage could have; a violation could be punishable by fines of up to $250, a low-level misdemeanor. 

Boysko had conferred with Republican lawmakers to make changes to the legislation to hopefully find some common ground and find bipartisan support. 

“Everybody in this room cares about children and safety. And we know that guns are presenting a very serious problem,” Boysko said, referencing multiple incidents where guns were brought into schools over the last few weeks, including in Newport News, where the parents of the six-year-old who brought a gun to school and shot a teacher have not been charged; they have stated that the gun was “secured” on a shelf the boy could not reach, with a trigger lock.

Opponents of the bill include the extremist Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), as well as the National Rifle Association (NRA). These groups oppose the bills because they claim would prevent parents from teaching their children and teenagers gun safety.

The bill will now be headed to the floor.

Guns and Higher Education

Republican Tommy Norment, the Senate Minority Leader, voted with Senate Democrats on two pieces of gun safety legislation, including one that would specify in Virginia law that firearms are banned at state-owned higher education institutions.

Sen. Creigh Deeds sponsored SB 1484 and tied the legislation directly to the tragic shooting that happened at the University of Virginia, which is in his district. The legislation also received support from UVA Police Chief Tim Longo, who noted that law enforcement could have a bigger role when it comes to potential weapons violations on school property. 

Thanks to school regulations, firearms are already prohibited on most higher education campuses in Virginia, including UVA, but the proposed legislation would give those rules the backing of state law and impose criminal penalties. 

“Make no mistake, these bills that we advanced today will save lives and hopefully provide a layer of comfort or peace of mind to those who are very well aware of the gun problem we have in our society,” Deeds, who is also a co-chair on the committee, said.

In the wake of recent tragedies, gun safety bills have become a hot topic of discussion, with similar bills being proposed by Democrats in the Virginia House of Delegates. However, with Republicans controlling the House and Democrats in charge in the Senate, it’s unclear if any new gun legislation will make it to Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk to be signed into law. 

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