Don’t sell me a gun: Va. law will let people ban themselves from firearms purchase

Northern Virginia state Sen. Scott Surovell said he’s known people that bought a gun and killed themselves on the same day.

The Democratic lawmaker, who represents Fairfax, Prince William, and Stafford counties, sponsored Senate Bill 436, which establishes a voluntary do-not-sell list for people worried about what they might do if they owned a gun.

“The idea is that you’re allowed to put yourself on a list that would prohibit anyone from selling you a firearm, when you put in your name for an instant background check,” Surovell told WTOP.

According to the Virginia Department of Health, two-thirds of gun deaths in Virginia are suicides.

“There’s some people out there going through the throes of mental illness, trying to get through on medication. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Especially when you have disorders like bipolar disorder, where people are up and down,” said Surovell.

“Sometimes people get really down, and they want to have that protection, in case they do get that far down, and sort of lose control,” he said.

The bill passed both the state Senate and House of Delegates along party-line votes. Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam signed the bill into law, which will take effect July 1, 2021.

“It’s entirely voluntary. It’s not the government telling what to do or how to live your life. I was hopeful that I would get some bipartisan support, but it didn’t happen,” Surovell said. “One of the issues the other side always raises with me is that firearm violence is a mental health problem.”

Under the law, a person over the age of 18 can add themselves to the list, which is meant to be confidential, by filling out a form, with a copy of their photo ID, and sending it to Virginia State Police.

Washington state has a similar list, but requires the individual to sign up in person at the local courthouse. Surovell said the in-person requirement would likely deter some people from signing up.

Opponents to the bill expressed concern the process would make it easy for someone to enroll another person on the list.

“Like an ex-wife, or ex-girlfriend, or neighbor might put someone on the list to try to cause problems,” said Surovell. “That would be a couple different felonies, and I don’t see people going through committing a felony to cause a problem when someone’s buying a gun — it just seems kind of far-fetched to me.”

The law makes it a criminal offense for someone to provide false information to enroll or take another person off the list.

Under the law, a person who signs up for the do-not-sell list is able to remove their name, after a 21-day waiting period.

“So, you don’t get off the list and immediately go buy a gun,” said Surovell. “One of the reasons you might want to get off the list is because you’re going through a mental health crisis, so we wanted to make sure there was a waiting period to get off.”

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Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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