Firearms initiatives caused most controversy
We received more visits, emails, letters, and calls on the issue of firearms than any other issue.
It all started when Governor Northam proposed a handful of legislative proposals after the Virginia Beach shooting last year. None of those proposals would have changed that shooting if they had been in effect last year. However, he called us into a special session that accomplished nothing. It appears his only goal was to establish firearms as a campaign issue for last fall’s elections. Those and other bills were introduced by various legislators this year. Below is a recap of this year’s actions on those proposals.
Legislation to require criminal background checks on all gun sales and restore the state’s former one-handgun-a-month rule won final approval on the last Saturday in the state Senate.
The background check bill was one of the silliest of the session. As introduced, it required all gun transfers to be subject to a state police background check prior to the transfer. Currently, that is the law if one buys at a gun store.
The background check has been a top priority of Democrats and gun-control advocates for years. It would close the so-called gun show loophole that allows private gun sales with no criminal history check required for the buyer. The new requirement claimed to deal with sales at gun shows. However, there is no evidence that the bad guys are going to gun shows to make buys. Those purchases are generally made from the trunk of the seller’s car, in cash, so that there is no paper trail.
Once the new law is enacted, private sellers will be required to go through a licensed firearms dealer for a background check, ensuring a would-be buyer can legally own a firearm. Gun dealers would be allowed to charge a fee of up to $15 per for a check performed on a private seller’s behalf.
The Northam administration and House Democrats preferred a broader version of the bill that would cover all gun transfers, which supporters said would avoid creating another loophole and reduce the number of guns changing hands with no regulatory oversight.
Republicans in the Senate convinced several Democrats that following the governor’s position could create several problems. One of those raised the point that a father could not give his son or daughter a gun without having a background check. It additionally raised the concern that you couldn’t loan a gun to a friend so that you could go hunting together.
This legislation could cross the line of being constitutional. It allows law enforcement authorities to temporarily seize guns from people deemed a threat to themselves or others. This would be good policy, but it was written in such a way that someone could accuse you of being a threat simply because they don’t like you or they have a grudge against you. You would then be forced to hire a lawyer and go to court to prove you were not a harm to yourselves or others.
One proposal that did not pass this year dealt with so called assault-style weapons. This bill, as written, would have made the sale of a weapon illegal simply because of its appearance. It would have made you a criminal just because you have an ammo clip that holds more than a dozen rounds.
Another controversial bill that passed will require people to report stolen firearms. This would make you a criminal if you did not report the robbery soon after it occurred. If you didn’t realize it was stolen, the burden would be on you to prove you didn’t know.
Other bills give local governments more power to ban guns in public spaces, tighten laws designed to make guns inaccessible to children, and prohibit gun possession by people who are subject to permanent protective orders.
I opposed all of these bills, as did most every other Republican in the Senate and House.
We are just as concerned by the shootings around the state and nation as everyone else. However, we understand that the problem is less about the gun than it is about mental health and parents teaching personal responsibility. Those need to be addressed first.
Frank Ruff Jr. represents Charlotte in the state Senate. His email address is Sen.Ruff@verizon.net.