House Democrats’ comprehensive gun reform goes into effect next month
RICHMOND, VA—Virginia House Democrats are observing #WearOrange Day on Friday, June 5, the beginning of National Gun Violence Prevention Weekend.
Everytown for Gun Safety estimates that an average of 992 gun deaths occur in the Commonwealth each year. This translates to a rate of 11.4 deaths per 100,000 people in Virginia, which is higher than the national average. Communities of color face increased risk, especially in disenfranchised neighborhoods. Black Virginians are eight times more likely to be killed by a gun. Black children in America are 14 times more likely to be killed by a gun than white children. Nationally, an average of 1,700 children are fatally shot a year, and the trauma associated with gun-violence exposure affects children’s mental health and academic success.
“Too many lives are cut short by gun violence every year in the Commonwealth. I am incredibly proud of the common-sense gun laws passed during the 2020 General Assembly session that will take effect on July 1 and immediately begin making Virginians safer,” said Virginia Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn. “But the historic progress made this year is just the start. We all must continue to work together so we can end gun violence once and for all in Virginia.”
Gun-violence prevention was a top issue for House Democrats during their historic 2020 legislative session, resulting in seven landmark gun reform bills signed by Governor Northam which will all go into effect on July 1.
The new laws include measures mandating universal background checks for sales of firearms, requiring that lost and stolen firearms be reported, preventing child access to firearms, providing authority for localities to regulate firearms in local government facilities and adjacent to certain events in public spaces, establishing substantial risk protective orders, restoring the one-gun-per-month limit on gun sales, and prohibiting persons subject to protective orders from possessing firearms. The House of Delegates passed these seven gun reform bills on January 30.
“Passing comprehensive measures to address gun safety was one of the greatest accomplishments of House Democrats in 2020,” said House Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “We stood firm against opposition in order to answer the call of more than 2.9 million Virginians who demanded action on this epidemic. Gun violence is the leading cause of death in our nation’s children, which is experienced at a higher rate by Black children and teens.”
This legislation came out of the 2019 report and policy recommendations from the Safe Virginia Initiative (SVI), the House Democrats’ task force organized in 2018 to develop reasonable and effective policies addressing gun violence prevention, as a response to the Parkland mass shooting. The Initiative held six town halls in urban, suburban and rural communities across the Commonwealth to gain perspectives on gun violence issues, including suicide, domestic abuse, violence against faith groups, and school safety. SVI incorporated voices of the community — from students, school administrators, law enforcement, legal experts, advocates, and survivors — into its town hall panels.
In the 2019 election, gun safety reform served as a core campaign promise for Democrats statewide and proved to be a key issue with voters, who put House Democrats in the majority for the first time in 20 years. A Christopher Newport University poll reported that Virginia voters are “firmly in support” of gun safety measures, with 86 percent of Virginia voters favoring universal background checks, and 73 percent backing “red flag” temporary protective orders removing guns if the legal owner is determined by a judicial officer to pose a threat of harm to self or others.
“House Democrats listened to Virginians’ concerns about the ongoing gun violence crisis, promised action on the problem, and took unprecedented steps forward on the issue during the 2020 session. We worked tirelessly for years to reach this point and I am proud of all the Caucus has achieved to get here,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rip Sullivan, who carried HB674 to create Substantial Risk Protective Orders. “Voters sent a Democratic majority to Richmond with the mission of creating meaningful, thoughtful change on key issues, and gun violence prevention topped the list.”
Here are summaries of the House Democrats’ gun reform legislation going into effect on July 1:
- HB 2 enforces universal background checks on gun sales, eliminating existing loopholes. Background check requirements now exist in 22 states and the District of Columbia, lowering homicide and suicide rates. As noted above, 86 percent of Virginians firmly support universal background checks. Delegate Kenneth Plum introduced HB 2.
- HB 9 requires gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours to law enforcement and penalizes those who fail to do so with a $250 fine. This bill intends to alert law enforcement promptly, to assist with efforts to find a stolen firearm and keep it from entering the criminal market. Too many guns flow out of Virginia into other states and on to their streets, disproportionately affecting communities of color in urban settings. Delegate Jeffrey Bourne is the patron of this bill.
- HB 421 allows localities the authority to regulate the possession, carrying, storage or transport of firearms, ammunition, components, or any combination of those things. It also authorizes localities that choose to create firearm-buyback programs to destroy any surrendered firearms. The General Assembly accepted an amendment from the Governor, which clarifies exemptions in the bill for institutions of higher education. This legislation was carried by Delegate Cia Price.
- HB 674 grants judicial officers the authority to issue an emergency Substantial Risk Protective Order, prohibiting a person deemed a risk to themselves or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm for the duration of the order. These temporary orders expire after 14 days (though a judge, after a hearing, may then enter a longer-term protective order if one is necessary), allowing the individual time to seek the mental health help they need. Democratic Caucus Chair Rip Sullivan served as the patron of this bill.
- HB 812 reinstates the one-gun-per-month limit on the number of guns an individual may purchase, unless they are a licensed firearms dealer. This law would help law enforcement decrease the number of handguns being redirected to the unregulated market. This bill was introduced by Delegate Jeion Ward.
- HB 1004 makes it a Class 6 felony for someone subject to a protective order to knowingly possess a firearm. The law will give 24 hours for a person covered by a protective order to sell or transfer their gun, and requires the subject to certify that they do not, or no longer, possess firearms within 48 hours. Judges can exercise contempt power for failure to comply with the certification requirement. Virginia currently does not prevent persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic-violence offenses from purchasing or possessing firearms. When an abuser has access to firearms, the risk of intimate partner homicide increases by 400 percent. Delegate Mike Mullin was the patron of HB 1004.
- HB 1083: Recklessly leaving loaded, unsecured firearms around minors under the age of 18 where individuals are at risk of death or injury will be classified as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Preventing young people from accessing firearms protects not only that child or family, but the entire community. Delegate Cliff Hayes introduced this legislation.