Shortly after I was elected to the General Assembly in 2006, I offered a bill designed to protect victims of domestic violence and help Commonwealth’s Attorneys prosecute cases. Under the bill, I proposed the insertion of a simple word — “possession”– into the list of prohibitions targeted at people who were subject to a protective order. Under Virginia law at that time, if you were subject to a protective order, you could neither own nor transport a firearm. You could, however, possess one, a critical problem for the police and Commonwealth’s Attorneys. Consequently, I offered my bill and naively believed that since I had the support of the State Police, Commonwealth’s Attorneys, and Sheriffs, the bill would easily pass. When it got to a subcommittee of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee, and a representative from the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), an extremely conservative gun rights group, testified against it, the bill met a quick death by unrecorded vote.
On February 26, 2016, after nearly a decade of effort and numerous failures by many Delegates and Senators in attempting to pass this bill, Gov. McAuliffe signed this measure into law. Congratulations are due to the various patrons of this bill over the years, who can now celebrate a great victory.
Last year, I carried the Governor’s bill that would have allowed voluntary background checks at gun shows. That bill also experienced an unceremonious death in subcommittee without a recorded vote. On February 26, 2016, the Governor also signed this bill into law, part of the gun compromise negotiated in this General Assembly session. While voluntary background checks at gun shows don’t go as far as would universal background checks, the bill is a step in the right direction: it creates a new “standard of care” that can be applied to gun sellers in the event that a purchaser of a firearm from an unlicensed dealer commits a crime or injures an individual with that weapon.
The so-called gun compromise has drawn criticism from gun safety advocates as not going as far as we need to go. I agree that there is much more to do. Nonetheless, the two bills that the Governor signed last week have failed in the General Assembly many times, and it was highly unlikely that they would pass this session. The difference in 2016 was Attorney General Mark Herring and the Governor. Without the pressure that Herring placed on the gun lobby with his decision several months ago to question the reciprocity agreements we had with other states to permit concealed carry in the Commonwealth, these laws would never have been seriously considered. We have much to do to address gun safety in our country, but we need to take victories when we achieve them, being ever mindful of the work that still needs to be done to make citizens safer in our communities in the face of gun violence.