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Gun Legislation and Equal Rights: Political Analysis for Friday, January 17, 2019

A cartoon image of Craig Carper and Jeff Shapiro, with a microphone between them.

Jeff Schapiro from the Richmond Times-Dispatch joins VPM News Director Craig Carper for this week's political analysis. Topics include a gun rights rally planned for Monday, the various gun bills being passed in the General Assembly, and Virginia becomes the 38th state to ratify the Equal Rights Amendment.

Craig Carper:  From VPM News in Richmond, I'm Craig Carper.  And I'm joined now by Richmond Times-Dispatch columnist and VPM’s political analyst, Jeff Schapiro.  Jeff, good morning.

Jeff Schapiro:  Hi there, Craig.

Carper:  We have just finished a frantic first full week at the General Assembly and the next week looks to be equally busy.  A gun rights rally has been planned for Monday, and this is expected to draw possibly up to 10’s of thousands of people.

Schapiro:  Virginia Citizens Defense League and the Gun Owners of America, and maybe to a lesser degree, the National Rifle Association is planning a show of, shall we say, political force on Capitol Square on Monday.  But the headline here is that Governor Northam, concerned about violence and having received reports from police about that distinct possibility, banned firearms temporarily from Capitol Square to run up and through the Monday demonstration.  The gun rights crowd immediately went to Richmond Circuit Court challenging that order, and a Richmond Circuit Court judge, Joi Taylor, sided with the governor saying there was no evidence that the ban will cause, her words, “irreparable harm” for gun owners.  So a lot of maneuvering, to some degree some legal theatre here, but clearly an opportunity by both sides to underscore their commitment to their positions.

Carper:  As you mentioned, Jeff, Governor Northam said that the gun ban was due to credible threats of possible violence.  We learned yesterday that the FBI had arrested three men in Delaware with links to a neo-Nazi group planning to attend the rally.

Schapiro:  And presumably, allegedly make trouble, presumably involving firearms.  This is all about Charlottesville-like fears, that what happened in Charlottesville in August 2017, a demonstration and counter-demonstration involving neo-Nazis, locals, gun rights people, white nationalists erupted in violence resulting in a death.  This is something that, of course, the administration wants to avoid, and the gun rights community says, as well, it is committed to avoiding.  But these arrests announced by the FBI yesterday would seem to underscore the governor's concerns that some fairly dramatic steps needed to be taken to assure at least a peaceful discourse.

Carper:  And yesterday afternoon, Senate Democrats pushed through three gun bills promised by Governor Northam, occasionally with a couple votes of Republican support.

Schapiro:  The three bills that cleared the senate on largely party-line votes, again this is a senate with a Democratic majority, a narrow Democratic majority, included the universal background check for gun purchases, the reinstatement of the one handgun a month law put in place in the final months of Doug Wilder’s administration, that's back in 1993, and repealed by Republicans in 2012.  The third bill would extend to local government the authority to ban guns in public buildings and parks.  These bills are part of a package of approximately eight bills pushed by the governor.  These were the bills that were introduced in January last year when the Republicans were still in charge and went nowhere.  And these were the bills that were introduced in July after the mass shooting in Virginia Beach in which 12 people died, and Republicans refused to take up.  Remember the legislature was in session for 90 minutes doing nothing on the firearms issue, and Democrats would argue contributing to the public's outrage over legislative inaction.

Carper:  And Jeff, Democrats this week are largely doing what they promised to do, passing these additional restrictions on firearms and making Virginia the 38th state to pass the Equal Rights Amendment.

Schapiro:  Now whether this, this vote in the House of Delegates to approve ERA amounts to anything remains to be seen.  Of course, the Trump Justice Department has said that it's too late to fold the ERA into the United States Constitution, that the Congress set a deadline of 1982 for the states to act.  There's going to be litigation on that point.  And of course, there is also legislation in Washington, carried by the state's senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner to, in effect, extend the deadline.  Quite a change, it was the House of Delegates that tended to be among the more resistant of the two bodies to the Equal Rights Amendment. The Senate friendlier, it had voted as well to clear ERA.  But the big vote, certainly the big symbolic vote was in the House.  You know, all of this speaks to sort of this larger theme pressed by the Democrats, that this is a new day in Virginia, that there are going to be changes, and they're going to be implemented quickly.  Firearms bills coming out of the Senate, the House will have to concur and is likely to, the push on ERA, clearly intended to assure, if not reassure, the grass roots and those voters who have been turning out in droves for Democrats in large part because of their distaste for Donald Trump.  The Republicans are not entirely silent on this.  These votes on highly symbolic legislation have the Republicans wondering if the Democrats, particularly in the House, are serious about the people's business. Todd Gilbert, the minority leader, was complaining yesterday that at this point a year ago, when the Republicans were still in charge of the House, there were at least 30 bills on the House calendar.  There's been little or nothing on the House calendar except for the ERA measure.

Carper:  Thanks to Jeff Shapiro, political columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch.  Jeff, we will catch up again next week.

Schapiro:  Good weekend to you.

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