The Virginia Senate Courts of Justice Committee on Monday advanced a bill that would make it illegal for anyone to purchase or possess a firearm after they have been found guilty of assault and battery against someone they are dating.
The committee advanced the bill on a party line vote, with all Democrats voting in favor of the legislation and all Republicans voting against it.
Current law only prohibits people convicted of assault or battery against a spouse or family member from buying a gun. Senate Bill (SB) 642, introduced by Sen. Russet Perry, (D-Loudoun), would expand those restrictions to people convicted of domestic violence against a romantic partner, as well.
More than 1,000 women are killed by intimate partners in the US each year, according to federal data, and about half of the intimate partner murders in the country are carried out by an unmarried partner, a 2018 study found.
Women in the United States are 11 times more likely to be killed with guns than women in other high-income countries, and they’re also more likely to be killed with a firearm than all other means combined. The presence of a firearm in domestic altercations also increases the risk of death for women in the United States by 500%.
One of the benefits of expanding protections to romantic partners in dating relationships, according to Perry, is that these sorts of cases would be handled in domestic relations courts instead of general district courts if the bill passes.
Nathan Greene, the commonwealth’s attorney for the City of Williamsburg and James City County, spoke in support of SB 642 on Monday.
“General district court is equipped to handle the crimes that happen when two individuals come together for a moment a criminal act takes place,” he said. “[Domestic relations] is equipped to address those crimes where there is either a past or ongoing relationship, and that relationship is a component to bringing them together and therefore should be considered with how to handle that case.”
Greene added that the bill would address a “longstanding problem” of state law treating an altercation between strangers the same way it would treat an altercation between a couple that has an ongoing relationship, but just doesn’t live together.
SB 642 now heads to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee for consideration. If the bill passes the full Senate and is approved by the House of Delegates, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin—who has historically opposed gun safety legislation—would have to decide whether to sign or veto it.
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