VA gun control bills advance in the Legislature after a recent shooting at the university, on the main campus

VA gun control bills advance in the Legislature after a recent shooting at the university, on the main campus

A Virginia Senate panel led by Democrats voted Monday to advance a range of gun control bills, including legislation meant to address recent campus shootings at the University of Virginia and a Newport News elementary school.

In an hour-long hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee agreed to measures that would tighten Virginia’s gun storage regulations and ban most guns from public college campuses.

“Make no mistake, these bills that we have advanced today will save lives and hopefully provide some comfort or peace of mind to those who are acutely aware of the gun problem we have in our society,” Democratic Senator Creigh’s Deed, co-chairman of the committee, said in a statement.

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However, the measures face uncertain prospects in the GOP-controlled House, where leaders have said they will address mass shootings and gun violence this year by improving the mental health care system, adding with funding for law enforcement and holding criminals accountable.

Democratic Sen. Jennifer Boysko, the lead sponsor of the gun storage bill that emerged Monday, said she consulted with Republican lawmakers and made changes to what she originally introduced in hopes of finding bipartisan support. . Boysko, who represents parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties, called the bill a “popular measure to save lives.”

“Everyone in this room cares about children and safety. And we know that guns are causing a very serious problem. Just look at last week, a middle school student in Henrico County brought a handgun to his school, and the week before, we all know about the 6-year-old who brought a gun and shot his teacher,” Boysko said, referring to the Newport News shooting, which police said happened while Abigail Zwerner was teaching first grade at Richneck Elementary.

Virginia state Senator-elect Jennifer Boysko speaks in Richmond, Virginia, on January 11, 2019. A Virginia Senate panel led by Democrats has approved a range of gun control bills that will head to the controlled House. GOP now.  uncertain faces.

Virginia state Senator-elect Jennifer Boysko speaks in Richmond, Virginia, on January 11, 2019. A Virginia Senate panel led by Democrats has approved a range of gun control bills that will head to the controlled House. GOP now. uncertain faces.
(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Boysko’s amended bill would require anyone who owns a gun in a residence with a child to keep both the firearm and any ammunition in a locked container. Those found in violation would be subject to a class four misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $250.

In the Newport News shooting case, an attorney for the child’s family told The Associated Press last week that it was his understanding that the gun was in the mother’s closet on an upper shelf well over six feet high with a trigger lock. which requires its key. Attorney James S. Ellenson said the family does not know how the child could have access to the weapon.

A range of advocates testified in support of the bill, including gun control organizations and a representative from Roanoke Public Schools.

Opponents said the measure would infringe on parents’ ability to decide when a child is responsible enough to have access to a gun and could interfere with families’ right to self-defense within their own home, citing cases in which children with firearms thwarted home invasions. .

DJ Spiker, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said the bill’s language is not “fast” because there are problems like YouTube videos that could help kids learn how to access supposedly secured guns.

“There is no such thing as inaccessible to a minor,” he said.

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Boysko’s bill advanced on a 9-6 party line vote. The measure now goes before the Senate finance committee, which reviews measures that could have a budgetary impact. If it clears that panel, it would then go to the Senate floor.

The judiciary committee also advanced a bill from Acting, whose district is Charlottesville, that would ban guns from public college and university buildings, except for firearms used for an authorized activity such as ROTC.

Most institutions — UVA among them — already ban guns on campus through their own regulatory processes, Acts said, but his measure would give the bans “the force of law.” He noted that authorities who searched the campus housing of the suspect in the UVA shooting found guns there in addition to what was found at the scene of the shooting and argued that his bill would improve public safety.

UVA Police Chief Timothy Longo Sr. evidence supporting the measure. He said current bans are enforced through policy violations, which are dealt with by university administrators.

“By banning this from the criminal law, it opens up the full range of investigative tools and constitutional protections that normally trigger the criminal investigative process,” Longo said.

Gun control groups joined Longo in support of the bill while gun rights groups opposed it, saying colleges should choose for themselves and students with concealed carry permits should be exempt.

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“This takes discretion away from the colleges, and there could be situations where they want to allow firearms on campus and in private rooms,” said Patricia Webb, a member of the Virginia Defense League. .

The Acts bill passed 10-5, picking up one Republican vote from Senate Republican Leader Tommy Norment.

Macaulay Porter, a spokesman for GOP Gov. Glenn Youngkin, directly addressed whether the governor opposes the measures, but she said in a statement, “Virginia has some of the toughest gun laws in America.” She said the governor supports various Republican-sponsored efforts to reduce penalties for gun crimes and gave her budget effort to increase funding for mental health services.

The judiciary committee also advanced a range of other bills, including measures that would ban the carry of certain semi-automatic weapons in public areas and restrict the purchase or sale of “assault firearms” made after July 1, 2023 .

The panel voted a bill from Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain would limit the 2020 law that would allow localities to have some ability to create gun-free zones. Obenshain argued that the law is in direct conflict with a US Supreme Court ruling last year.

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