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Dems file dozens of gun bills as opponents gather for Lobby Day

Van Cleave plays music off of his phone
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Philip Van Cleave, President of Virginia Citizens Defense League, plays a song before giving remarks during Lobby Day on Monday, January 15, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia.

Proposals have touched on topics like assault weapons, red-flag laws and intervention programs.

Gun regulation opponents headed to the Virginia Capitol on Monday to lobby against dozens of bills filed by Democrats, who now control the state Legislature.

Sean Callahan traveled from Northern Virginia with three gun-advocate friends and made his way around the new General Assembly Building to meet with Republicans and Democrats.

“When one party has a majority, they potentially flood a whole lot of legislation,” said Callahan, who visited the Capitol along with other members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

Democrats have introduced dozens of bills in both the House and Senate that would regulate firearms, touching on topics like assault weapons, red-flag laws and intervention programs.

Gun-related homicides in 2021 increased 11.2% over the previous year, according to the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner's 2021 annual report, released in July 2023. The report also indicated that 57% of gun-related deaths were due to suicide.

When Democrats unveiled their session priorities last week, guns were a top issue. Del. Kathy Tran exclusively discussed firearms while speaking about the caucus’ “keeping communities safe” legislative pillar and pointed out caucus members were gun owners.

“I feel like you can both be a gun owner and responsible gun owner and believe in common-sense measures to keep our community safe,” said Del. Adele McClure (D-Arlington), who added that she owns a shotgun for sport shooting and is looking into other self-defense “tools.”

McClure has introduced two gun-related bills. One would require a locking device to be included in the sale or transfer of a gun in certain circumstances. Another would amend a 2021 law that prohibits those convicted of domestic abuse from purchasing, transporting or transferring firearms to also include dating partners and not just family or household members.

McClure said people are often taken aback when they find out she owns a gun.

“The first thing they kind of look at is, they judge you and think immediately that you want to take away their guns,” she said. “And that is not the case.”

The VCDL opposes McClure’s bills, as well as Virginia’s red flag laws, which allow authorities to seize or prevent ownership of weapons if a court finds an individual poses a risk to themselves or others. And despite Democrats having a majority in both the House and Senate, they still need Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s support in order for their proposals to become law.

a pertrait of Willett
Shaban Athuman
VPM News
Del. Rodney Willett, D-Henrico, talks about about being a gun owner during Lobby Day on Monday, January 15, 2024 in Richmond, Virginia.

Del. Rodney Willett (D-Henrico), who grew up hunting, said he expected Youngkin to sign a bill of his that would make it a misdemeanor for gun owners who allow minors to possess a gun, if the minor uses the gun unlawfully or takes it into school zones.

In 2021, a constituent of Willett’s was killed by a minor who was in possession of an adult’s weapon.

“Lucia Bremmer and another friend were gunned down with someone who should never had access to a firearm or any weapon,” said Willett on Monday.

Youngkin only briefly mentioned guns in his State of the Commonwealth address last week. He hinted he would veto gun-related bills with the exception of those that would impose tougher penalties for crimes committed using guns.

Some gun-related bills do seem to have promise, politically. Democrats have proposed tax credits for locking or deactivation devices, which VCDL supports. Everytown for Gun Safety, a nonprofit that advocates for stricter gun regulations, said 73% of respondents in a late 2023 poll it sponsored supported a state law requiring secure firearm storage.

“We need to be looking at laws that don't just pass today, but could pass tomorrow,” said Willett, while recognizing that Democrats might be able to pass bills that initially seem to have less promise of becoming law.

“As a matter of principle, we are absolutely focused on assault weapons,” he said. “I hope we can get some level of bipartisan support for that. That's tough. That's a tougher, tougher climb for us.”

Callahan, the Northern Virginia gun advocate, said that lobbying against regulations was a long-term project.

“You give them a pamphlet, you give them contact information, and so that when things get closer, maybe you can give them a call back. Or maybe they'll reach out to you as a resource,” he said.

Jahd Khalil covers local government, the economy and labor issues for VPM News. Previously, he covered state government for RadioIQ and was a freelance journalist based in Egypt.