Hannah Eason, News Editor
Andrew Ringle, Managing Editor
It was a little after 8 a.m. at Capitol Square on Monday, and 3-year-old Ryker Hines was wide awake with a cookie in one hand and a pin that read “Guns Save Lives” in the other.
“The family spans three generations,” said grandmother Paula Hines with pride as she introduced her family of five, who came to the Capitol to protest recently proposed gun legislation in the Virginia General Assembly.
The National Rifle Association, or NRA, and gun-rights activists gathered for the first hearing of the Senate Courts and Justice Committee, which handles firearm legislation.
“It’s unconstitutional on its face, any gun control legislation,” said Paula’s son Jake Hines. “Let us keep our families safe, and we’ll go ahead and be responsible citizens.”
Six bills left the Senate Courts and Justice Committee on Monday concerning firearm possession and transfers, school security and mandatory background checks.
“They claim to want common sense gun control, however, the bills they propose are extremely vague in some instances and extremely restrictive in others,” Jake Hines said.
The NRA released a statement on its website saying all of the proposed legislation — including universal background checks, mandatory reporting of lost or stolen firearms and assault weapon bans — would not make Virginia safer and called the measures “extreme.”
Speakers from the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action — also known as NRA-ILA — and the General Assembly spoke at a news conference Monday to address proposed gun control bills, five days after the beginning of the 2020 legislative session.
Attendees heard from House Minority Leader Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, who said there was no real connection between the bills in the hopper and increased public safety.
“The notion that you can legislate away evil and bad things in this world is falling, and the only thing that stops evil is somebody prepared to stop it,” Gilbert said.
NRA-ILA Virginia State Director D.J. Spiker spoke strongly against the proposed gun control bills and said the “devil was in the details.”
SB 16, which would have prohibited the sale and transport of assault firearms and firearm magazines designed for more than 10 rounds, was stricken by the committee on Monday.
“So while we’ve stood a step forward with SB 16 failing today, we’ve taken two steps back by the governor backing a new piece of legislation, which arguably is worse than what we saw originally,” Spiker said.
He also spoke against HB 961, which would prohibit the sale and transport of assault firearms and expand the definition of such devices. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam endorsed that bill on Monday.
The following bills concerning firearms and security made it out of the committee just hours after the activists arrived:
- SB 35: Authorizes any locality to prohibit the possession or carrying of firearms and/or ammunition during events in public spaces. Introduced by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon.
- SB 69: Prohibits anyone who is not a licensed firearms dealer from purchasing more than one handgun within a 30-day period, making such an offense a Class 1 misdemeanor. Exempts people with valid Virginia concealed carry permits, as well as those who are replacing stolen or lost handguns, trading in a handgun, and private and antique handgun sales. Also exempts law enforcement agencies, licensed private security companies, state and local prisons, and those with special circumstances under state police. Introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton.
- SB 70: Requires background checks from licensed dealers for all firearm transfers. Transfers without valid checks would result in a Class 6 felony for the transferor and a Class 1 misdemeanor for the transferee. Exempts temporary transfers at lawful activities including gun ranges and shooting classes, as well as transfers between immediate family members and at licensed gun shows or antique sales. Finally, exempts transfers that occur while the firearm owner is continuously present and transfers that are necessary to prevent death or bodily harm. Introduced by Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth.
- SB 170: Requires annual filing of data related to incidents involving students and school resource officers and school security. The Department of Criminal Justice Services is required to collect the data in coordination with the Department of Education and the Department of Juvenile Justice. The bill requires the Virginia Center for School and Campus Safety to analyze and share the data. Introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton.
- SB 171: Requires school resource officers and school security to receive training specific to working with students in a school environment. Training would be on relevant state and federal laws; school and personal liability issues; security awareness; conflict resolution and de-escalation techniques; disaster and emergency response; awareness of cultural diversity and implicit bias; working with students who have disabilities, mental health needs or past traumatic experiences; student behavior. Introduced by Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton.
- SB 240: Creates a process to apply emergency orders that would prohibit a person from purchasing, possessing or transferring a firearm. Orders would be filed by Virginia attorneys or any law-enforcement officer if a person poses “a substantial risk of injury to himself or others.” A judge or magistrate then may issue a search warrant to remove the person’s firearms within 14 days of issuing the order.
Retired military personnel and competitive shooter Tom Suit said at the press conference that gun control legislation was the “false answer.”
“I completely understand the desire to reduce firearms related violence. The loss of anyone, by any form of violence, is painful, gut wrenching, agonizing and tragic. Making a felon of me or law-abiding Virginia citizens like me, is simply going for the easy but false answer,” Suit said. “The right answer is addressing violent behavior, which is hard and complex work. But I do believe Virginia legislators are up to that task.”
Virginia gun owner Savannah Lindquist spoke at the press conference about being sexually assaulted while on a gun-free campus in Philadelphia during her senior year of college.
“None of that mattered that day. I went to a gun-free college and chose not to bring my firearm with me,” Lindquist said. “In theory, yes, I could have broken the law and carried my gun in college anyways, but I wanted to follow the rules. I am an example of gun control legislating people into victimhood, but I am not alone.”
Lindquist said after returning home to Norfolk, Virginia, carrying a gun helped her feel safe.
The rally comes just three days after guns were banned in the State Capitol and a legislative office building, but carrying a firearm on the outdoor grounds is still permitted.
There are exemptions for police officers, security personnel and military. Capitol Police say the ban allows them to search and screen any person who enters the Capitol and Pocahontas buildings. Lawmakers, however, are exempt from screening to “avoid any interference with a member fulfilling his legislative responsibilities.”
Gary Brinson, who is a contractor for the Navy and fifth-generation soldier, attended Monday’s rally and said he generally doesn’t go anywhere without a gun.
“Guns are guns, they are nothing but a tool,” Brinson said. “It’s just a piece of metal.”
The King George resident said his family’s history in the military dates back to the Revolutionary War. Brinson said the proposed gun legislation was “turning Virginia evil.”
“I don’t want to give up that freedom, and I don’t want to turn my back on my ancestors and what they fought for,” Brinson said.
VCU Police sent out an email signed by VCU and VCU Health’s associate vice president for public safety John Venuti alerting students and staff of Monday’s lobbying and next week’s rally, saying to “expect seeing individuals carrying approved firearms.”
“We anticipate some lobbying efforts will draw large numbers of individuals expressing their views on issues from a variety of perspectives,” Venuti said.
Portsmouth resident Mary Brinn said gun owners in Virginia were “free people” who “just wanted to be left alone.”
“I believe that the first step of a government over running the people is to take away their only protections from the government, which is weapons,” Brinn said.
Jerry Johnson, who lives in Mechanicsville, says he opposes gun legislation because of its effects on law-abiding people.
“A criminal pays no attention to gun laws,” Johnson said. “So if he’s gonna go ahead and commit crimes and murder someone, do you think he thinks, ‘But you know, the government says I can’t do this?’”
Billy Llewelyn, who lives in Hanover, said that in his opinion gun control legislation does not help public safety, but instead restricts gun use and ownership.
“Democrats don’t want anyone to have guns … except for their bodyguards,” Llewelyn said while standing outside of the Pocahontas building.
Llewelyn and his brother, Michael Llewelyn, said they planned to attend next week’s NRA rally.
A rally will be held on Monday for the Virginia Citizens Defense League’s Lobby Day. Washington D.C. outlet WTOP reported that the group expects about 30,000 people to attend.
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