Emma Gauthier, Contributing Writer
A majority of Virginians favor stricter gun laws, according to a poll released last week by the Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs.
The poll reported that 53% of residents favor stricter gun laws, while 17% believe laws should be less strict.
“Our latest poll numbers suggest, as I have long maintained, that Virginia is a ‘must watch’ state,” former Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder said in the report. “The issue of stronger gun laws is illustrative of the need for advocates at every level, to be involved, including public safety, health, housing, and education groups to demonstrate the need for change if such exists.”
The school’s public policy center released the 26-page Winter 2019-20 Commonwealth Poll — which is conducted multiple times annually to gauge Virginians’ opinions on relevant state issues — on Jan. 7. The survey of 818 adults estimates a margin of error of 4.8 percentage points.
When broken down by region, the report found that Northern Virginia has the largest majority of residents in favor of stricter gun laws at 64%, followed by the Tidewater region with 62%. The Northwest and West regions are tied at 34%.
The survey reported 57% favor banning assault weapons and 56% favor banning high-capacity magazines.
“Saying what numbers reflected on, on a temporary basis, won’t get it resolved,” Wilder said. “It requires people coming together. It requires public health to say, ‘Look, our emergency rooms are crowded with shootings.’”
Senate Bill 16, a bill proposed by the newly-appointed Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw of Richmond, would expand the definition of “assault firearm” and make it unlawful for any person to sell, purchase or possess firearms that fall under the category. The bill, which is in committee, would define an “assault firearm” as:
- A semi-automatic center-fire rifle or pistol with a fixed magazine capacity in excess of 10 rounds
- A semi-automatic shotgun or shotgun with a revolving cylinder that expels single or multiple projectiles.
Current law prohibits the sale, purchase or possession of Armsel Strikers, also called Striker 12s, which are semi-automatic folding stock 12-gauge shotguns designed for riot control and combat.
Eighty-three percent of respondents were in favor of subjecting private sales at gun shows to background checks. While federal and state law requires licensed firearm dealers to obtain a background check, Virginia does not require private sellers to do so, commonly known as the “gun show loophole.”
Eighty-four percent were in favor of preventing people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns, a proposal that yielded the most support in the poll.
“What was interesting about the findings for preventing those with mental illness from purchasing guns is that there was no significant difference between party affiliation,” poll director Farrah Stone said.
Eighty-eight percent of Democrats were in favor of preventing people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns, while 81% of Independents and Republicans were in favor.
According to Virginia law, people deemed “mentally incapacitated” are restricted from purchasing firearms. However, according to a report from the Giffords Law Center, there is no federal law requiring states to report these individuals to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System, the database used by the FBI to conduct background checks.
“I think that the Democrats taking over the General Assembly indicates that the support and the votes are there to back up the agenda that is being put forth,” Stone said.
As of Jan. 8, more than 100 localities in Virginia have pledged their position as a “Second Amendment sanctuary,” meaning they will not enforce any new “unconstitutional restrictions” on guns. Fourteen other cities and counties have passed second amendment resolutions, but did not use the word sanctuary.
Second amendment sanctuaries include Stafford County, Hanover County and King George County. Five counties and cities will not become second amendment sanctuaries, including Loudoun County and Albemarle County. Twenty-two counties and cities have not taken a stance, according to NBC.
“By their own terms, these resolutions have no legal effect,” Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring stated in a letter to Delegate Jerrauld Jones. “In any event, all localities, local constitutional officers, and other local officials are obligated to follow duly enacted state laws.”