The General Assembly met in special session on Tuesday, July 9, at the Governor’s request so that they would – he hoped – pass a whole bunch of gun control bills for him to sign into law. And our representatives came loaded with bills and resolutions. Delegates filed 31 bills for laws, three joint resolutions, and 46 House resolutions. State senators filed 32 bills, two joint resolutions, and 20 Senate resolutions. The resolutions were basically to celebrate the lives of named individuals or to commend individuals and organizations. Nothing sinister there.
The Senate’s two joint resolutions would establish two study commissions on violence. The House joint resolutions would determine the rules of the special session (HJ 4003) and recognize the Virginia Beach Tragedy Fund as a good thing (HJ 4002). Then there was HJ 4001 sponsored by Kaye Kory (D-Falls Church) which would have established an annual “Gun Violence Awareness Day” so liberals could demonize gun owners.
Of the 63 actual bills introduced, six were good and nine were harmless. The other 48 were trouble from the git-go.
All of the good bills were offered by Republicans. Delegate Mark Cole (R-Fredericksburg) introduced HB 4001 that would have codified into Virginia law the US Supreme Court’s District of Columbia v Heller decision that clarifies the right of individual Virginians to keep and bear arms. Delegate Cole also introduced HB 4002 that would require state and local government entities to allow their employees who have concealed handgun permits (CHPs) to carry concealed in their workplace unless the government provides armed security on site. And Delegate David Yancey (R-Newport News) offered HB 4014 that would allow persons convicted of stealing firearms to get a reduced sentence if they provided substantial help to authorities in apprehending other persons involved in the crime.
In the Senate, Bill Stanley (R-Moneta) introduced SB 4011 to allow public and private schools to have “volunteer school security” officers (retired law enforcement officers not paid by the school) who can be armed on school property. Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg) introduced SB 4015 which would require schools to teach firearm safety at all grades. The courses would be taught by law-enforcement officers and would not use actual firearms. Dick Black (R-Leesburg) introduced SB 4016, which would allow local government employees with CHPs to carry or possess a firearm at their workplace whether armed security is provided or not.
All of the bad bills were introduced by Democrats with a few notable exceptions. Former Lieutenant Governor candidate Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach) introduced HB 4007 which would allow localities to ban guns in their government buildings. This would infringe on the rights of gun owners to protect themselves both in the buildings and going from and to their vehicles. Davis also introduced HB 4008 which would reduce options for CHP applicants to get the training that our laws require. I can understand Democrats introducing bad bills, but I don’t understand Republicans trying to limit our constitutional rights.
And although Senator Norment introduced one good bill, he introduced a bad one. SB 4013 would ban firearms for anyone other than a certain privileged few in any government building and would change violations from misdemeanors to felonies. Then he turned around and asked that the bill be stricken. Not sure what he’s thinking.
With all those bills, one would think that the special session would last for days. Instead it lasted 90 minutes before it was recessed until November 18th. In the meantime the bipartisan Virginia State Crime Commission led by its chairman Senator Mark Obenshain (R-Harrisonburg) and vice-chairman Delegate Rob Bell (R-Albemarle) are directed to “undertake a systematic review of the events that occurred in Virginia Beach and propose legislative changes to Virginia’s laws concerning firearms and public safety.” In the letter to the Crime Commission, House Speaker Kirk Cox and Senate Majority Leader Norment noted that they “have asked the committees of the House and Senate to refer all legislation introduced during the Special Session to the Crime Commission for review,” including any additional legislation filed before July 19.
This is a win for common sense, but several perils remain. The General Assembly reconvenes after the November election, which means legislators cannot be held accountable at the polls this year for their votes when the special session reconvenes. Also, people lose interest too easily, which means our legislators can act in November without the scrutiny that they are currently facing. If we are to protect our constitutional freedoms, we must stay on top of this. We must remind our representatives that we are watching them because their actions profoundly affect us.
Steve “Doc” Troxel, Ph.D.