Posted by: Amy – Jan 18, 2016
The debate for gun rights heated up Monday morning as legislators and activists convened at the Capitol today.
Democratic and Republican legislators have introduced almost 70 bills dealing firearms into this year’s GA and their supporters were out this morning lobbying along with them.
Proudly displaying orange “Guns Save Lives” stickers, hundreds of supporters gathered at the Bell Tower toting signs promoting gun ownership and decrying Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring over his recent move away from reciprocity agreements for concealed weapons.
Senator Bryce Reeves (R, Spotsylvania) spoke at the rally addressing the crowd on SB 610, which would allow any holder of a concealed handgun permit issued by any state who is at least 21 years of age to carry a concealed handgun in Virginia.
“Let me thank you all - I have never felt safer on this campus,” he said to the crowd several hundred deep, many armed with guns ranging from pistols to long-barrel rifles. “We will not stand for anymore encroachments on our second amendment rights."
Many members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a grassroots non-profit organization which advocates for Virginians’ right to bear arms, were also there waiting in line outside the GA building to talk with lawmakers about gun-related bills.
Bill Wood, a Gainesville resident, was out supporting the VCDL and passing around the organization’s 20-page Firearm Bill Analysis report to legislators hoping to get their message across.
“A firearm can diffuse a situation very, very quickly,” he said. “What we end up doing is working to change perceptions.”
The report is a rundown of all the gun-related bills introduced into this year’s assembly that the VCDL supports, opposes or remains neutral on.
“If you, as a law abiding citizen want to take on the responsibly of having a firearm to protect yourself anywhere in the state of Virginia then we stand behind you and we will do what we can to work with the legislature to make common sense things happen,” Wood said. “You have a right to protect yourself.”
One of the bills the VCDL is supporting this year is SB 48, which was introduced by Senator Richard Black, would allow a Virginia resident who qualifies for a concealed handgun permit to be able to carry a concealed handgun without a permit anywhere that person could lawfully openly carry a handgun.
Referred to as “Constitutional Carry,” seven other states have introduced legislation in the issue including Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Kansas, Maine, Vermont, and Wyoming.
“What we do is we come here and we try to reason with the folks that don’t necessarily support our opinions so that they understand where we’re coming from and to show that we’re not a bunch of gun-toting hillbillies,” said Wood.
HB 128, proposed by Delegate Patrick Hope, is one of the bills the VCDL is fighting to shoot down.
It would remove the ability for a concealed handgun permit holder to carry in the General Assembly, the Capitol, or any buildings controlled by the legislature.
“You look around, most of these people here wearing these “Guns Save Lives” stickers, many of them are carrying today,” Wood said. “In fact, that’s kind of amazing that here in this building, the Virginia state legislature that you can go up and talk to your representative basically packing heat on your hip. I don’t know of any other legislature that allows that kind of stuff to happen.”
Democratic legislators, who are in the minority in both the House and Senate, are also behind a number of gun-related bills.
For instance, Del. Kaye Kory (D, Falls Church) has introduced HB 482, which would require background checks on firearms sales at gun shows.
And Del. John Bell, (D-Chantilly), wants to tighten the rules for getting a concealed handgun permit in Virginia. Bell’s HB 617 would require that a concealed handgun permit must be applied for in person instead of online.
In October, Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed the Executive Order 50, banning weapons from state buildings. Last month, Attorney General Mark Herring announced that the Commonwealth would no longer recognize concealed handgun permits issued by 25 states that he said do not meet Virginia’s standards.
“Basically they’ve gone off and done an evaluation, where they said, ‘we don’t think the requirements for concealed carry in that state are as tough as ours so we’re not going to honor their concealed carry,” Wood said. “I can now no longer visit my family in North Carolina under the same set of laws that I enjoy in Virginia today.”
Wood said he is in full support of HB 79, introduced by Virginia Delegate Bob Marshall, which would allow college professors to carry a concealed firearm in college classrooms.
“These are law-abiding citizens, colleges, schools, they’re gun-free zones so anything you do to remove gun-free zones from the list has got to be a good thing.”
Another local resident there supporting the VCDL was particularly interested in concealed carry issues and gun stores being within 1,000 feet of schools, which is mentioned in a number of bills this year.
“A big hot button topic this year is the abominations up in Northern Virginia right now with nova gun store,” he said, referring to protests that ensued in McClean, Va. after a gun store opened near an elementary school.
“It doesn’t really pose a threat to the schools, there’s proven fact that concealed carry owners are rarely ever cause any problems or get in trouble or get arrested for anything," he said. "It’s a very good selection of community.”
He’s also in support of college professors carrying a firearm in classrooms.
“Any place you can eliminate a gun-free zone and promote self-defense, it’s good,” he said.
To contrast the pro-gun rally, a vigil was held at the Virginia Center for Public Safety to commemorate the lives of the more than 800 Virginians lost to gun violence each year.
Words by Amy David.