by Madison Hirneisen
Virginia Democrats are pushing for stricter gun safety measures during the 2023 legislative session in response to what they say is an “epidemic” of gun violence.
Democratic lawmakers in the state Senate have introduced a range of gun control proposals, including bills that will prohibit individuals from carrying assault weapons in certain public areas and prohibit the sale of unserialized weapon parts, more commonly known as “ghost guns.”
Given the divided make-up of the General Assembly, where Democrats control the Senate and Republicans control the House of Delegates, it’s unclear what measures will receive bipartisan support. Republican lawmakers have also introduced legislation to repeal state gun laws.
During a press conference Friday, officials said the Democrat-supported bills are “common sense” measures that will make Virginia safer.
“The data is clear – states with stronger gun laws have fewer gun deaths,” said Lori Haas, who works with the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at Johns Hopkins University and whose daughter survived the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech. “Like other rights, the right to own a firearm is not immune to regulation, per the Supreme Court. And certainly, weaponry designed and intended for the battlefield needs strong regulations.”
One measure backed by Democratic lawmakers, Senate Bill 1382, would make anyone who “imports, sells, manufactures, purchases, possesses, transports or transfers” an assault firearm guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. The measure also prevents someone convicted of this violation from purchasing or possessing a firearm for three years.
The bill specifies that an assault weapon does not include antique firearms or has been rendered permanently inoperable.
This is not the first time Democratic lawmakers have tried to prohibit the transport and sale of assault weapons in the Commonwealth. Lawmakers ultimately failed to pass a 2020 bill that would have made someone guilty of a Class 6 felony for purchasing, selling, transporting, importing or manufacturing an assault firearm.
Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, the author of SB 1382, said his bill is a “model based on what we learned in 2020,” adding the bill is “designed to slow the spread of firearms on the streets.”
Another bill, SB 901, would prohibit individuals from storing a handgun in an unattended motor vehicle, unless the vehicle is locked and the handgun is secured in a locked container. Violators could face fines of up to $500, and their car may be “subject to removal for safekeeping.”
The bill’s author, Sen. Dave Marsden, D-Fairfax, said during a Friday press conference that he introduced the bill in response to the “epidemic” of guns being stolen from vehicles across the Commonwealth.
“Guns are getting into the wrong hands and people are dying,” Marsden said. “This is a growing trend here in the Commonwealth, and it’s got to stop.”
Another measure introduced this week by State Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D-Fairfax, would require individuals who own a firearm in a residence where a minor lives or is present to store the firearm in a locked container, and all ammunition in a separate locked container. Violators could be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
During a press conference Friday, Boysko recalled a shooting that occurred last week in Newport News, when a 6-year-old shot his school teacher with a gun he brought from home. Boysko said her bill will “not only stop tragedies like we saw in Newport News, but will prevent other tragedies including gun accidents, youth suicide and school shootings.”
The bills backed by Democratic lawmakers will go before legislators in the coming weeks.
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Madison Hirneisen is a staff reporter covering Virginia and West Virginia for The Center Square. Madison previously covered California for The Center Square out of Los Angeles, but recently relocated to the DC area. Her reporting has appeared in several community newspapers and The Washington Times.
Photo “Handgun” by Dan Galvani Sommavilla.