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Crime Commission Digs Into Gun-safety Bills During Two-day Hearing

The Virginia State Crime Commission heard testimony this week from advocates on both sides of the gun debate as well as presentations from law enforcement and public health and safety experts.

The 13-member commission is weighing legislation that was introduced during a July Special Session of the General Assembly which Governor Ralph Northam called after the mass shooting in Virginia Beach.

Some of the proposed bills would reinstate a Virginia law that limits handgun purchases to one per month, another to require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms and another to allow family members to request the temporary removal of firearms from a loved one who’s deemed a safety risk.

“Virginians deserve action,” Northam said in a letter to the Commission Monday, “and that is what I asked for when the General Assembly convened on July 9. Instead, legislators chose to adjourn ninety minutes after convening without hearing or debating a single bill, referring everything to the Crime Commission for further study.”

The Commission is now tasked with making policy recommendations by Nov. 18, when the General Assembly reconvenes.

Tuesday’s public hearing included a cast of familiar faces in Virginia’s ongoing debate over gun rights and public safety in an era of frequent mass shootings.

“Again and again we are told that we have to accept more restrictions on our rights to self defense for public safety,” said Philip Van Cleave with the Virginia Citizens Defense League. “Well what about our safety?”

Newport News Sheriff Gabe Morgan spoke in favor of several of the gun-restriction bills. Morgan said his city has experienced 20 shootings and seven deaths in the month of August.

“I support people’s rights to own guns. But the first duty of government is to protect its citizens,” he said. “We can’t effectively protect our citizens as it stands right now.”

But it’s unlikely the majority-Republican Commission will budge on gun restrictions as a result of the two-day hearing. 

Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment called Democrats’ urgency to restrict firearms hysterical.

“And saying I called you into session in July and you should have done it on the spot is absolutely preposterous,” Norment said.

Norment said the hearing will help the commission take a deliberate, fact-based approach to gun safety.


Whittney Evans is VPM News’ features editor.
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