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Red Flag Bill Finds Some Support Among Virginia GOP

A gun show in Houston.
A gun show in Houston. (Photo: M&R Glasgow/Creative Commons)

Last week, President Donald Trump backed the idea of federal “red flag” laws designed to keep guns away from people who may harm themselves or others. Several Virginia Republicans say they support similar measures here, bucking the party’s traditional reluctance to take up gun control measures.

Del. Jason Miyares (R-Virginia Beach) proposed his red flag bill in July, when the legislature met for a special session on gun violence.

“What you constantly see with some of these mass shootings is that people have said repeatedly that they saw this coming,” Miyares said. “You have these red flags that pop up in which it’s clear this person is imminent threat to themselves and others.”

Miyares’s bill would allow judges to take a person into custody and restrict their access to firearms for up to 14 days if they’re found to be a threat to themselves and others. The firearms would be turned over to a “responsible custodian” or to local law enforcement.

The proposal has the support of at least two House Republicans: GOP Caucus Chair Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax) and Del. Glenn Davis (R-Virginia Beach). A spokesperson for Del. David Yancey (R-Newport News) said the delegate “sees merit in the bill and could be supportive of Del. Miyares's proposed legislation.”

The latter three delegates are in some of the most competitive districts in the upcoming November elections, where Republicans will be defending slim majorities in both chambers of the legislature.

GOP-controlled subcommittees have tabled all varieties of gun restrictions over the past decade, leading Democrats to call for floor votes where they see more likelihood of moderates crossing the aisle.

The Virginia Crime Commission will consider Miyares’ bill alongside other proposals when meets on August 19 to discuss gun violence legislation.

Democrats have also proposed red flag laws; a bill from Del. Rip Sullivan (D-Fairfax) would allow judges to issue a search warrant for firearms in people found to be at risk of harming themselves or others with guns.

Republicans have voiced concern that the search warrants could violate gun holders' civil liberties, while Kathryn Gilley, a spokesperson for House Democrats, questioned Miyares’ approach.

“We are certainly happy to see a handful of Republicans beginning to support a version of this policy,” Gilley said. “We do have questions about Delegate Miyares's bill, however, which would first require the person to be taken into custody, further stigmatizing mental illness and putting a significant strain on law enforcement. To our knowledge, that would be unprecedented among the 17 states with existing red flag laws.”

The bills aren’t scheduled for a vote until November 18 -- a date set by GOP lawmakers when they voted to recess a July special session on gun violence about 90 minutes after it started, saying they needed more time to consider the bills. Democrats accused the GOP of stalling.

Miyares said he would be “delighted” if the bills came up for a vote before the election, but said doing so would be “exceedingly difficult” given lawmakers’ busy schedules and the uncertain schedule of the crime commission.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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