Virginia House approves series of gun-safety bills

Virginia’s House of Delegates passed a series of gun-related bills Thursday afternoon, in the latest advance for one of the new Democratic majority’s top priorities.

The seven gun violence prevention bills are based on what has worked in other states, said Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington.

The bills now headed to the Senate for further action and amendments (with vote results in parentheses) include:

  • A return to Virginia’s one-handgun-per-month purchase limit (53-47).
  • Expanded background check requirements to cover even private gun sales (54-46).
  • A “red flag” law to allow the temporary removal of guns from someone shown to pose a threat to themselves or others (52-46).
  • A requirement that most lost or stolen firearms be reported to police within 24 hours of learning the gun is missing (55-44).
  • An expansion of the types of protective orders that automatically prohibit a person from carrying a gun (56-42).
  • Making it illegal to recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured gun in a manner that endangers the life or limb of someone age 18 or younger (an expansion of current law, which applies to minors 14 and younger). The bill also would raise the penalty from a Class 3 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony (54-46).
  • Allowing local governments to enact gun possession and transportation regulations that are more restrictive than state or federal law (50-48).

Most Republicans opposed all of the bills, expressing concerns about gun rights.

The Virginia Senate, also now controlled by Democrats, have passed a number of similar measures already this session.

The Senate bill on local regulation of guns has some of the most significant differences, because the Senate version would only allow local governments to prohibit guns in their parks or buildings.

House Republicans’ concerns about the House version included worries that people would not be able to go anywhere with their guns if the only way out of their home city or county is through another jurisdiction that adopted a wide ban on transporting firearms.

Overall, Del. James Edmunds, R-Halifax County, summed up the action in Richmond as a divide between “two very different Virginias.”

“There is the Virginia that is urbanized, and the Virginia that is rural,” Edmunds said.

Virginia’s General Assembly has until March 7 to work out differences on the House and Senate bills before final passage, which means amendments to the exact language in several remain likely.

Other floor votes

The Senate voted 32-7 Thursday in favor of new standards and protections for severely mentally ill defendants who might otherwise face the death penalty.

The House also voted 62-38 to require a state minimum standard for police departments regarding the use of body cameras, including the storage of video files.

Other bills approved by one chamber or the other include a general consolidation of alcohol licensing laws; expanded authority for local governments to permit larger development in exchange for additional affordable housing; and permission for crash-clearing traffic incident management vehicles to use emergency lights so crashes can be cleared more quickly.

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