First, while plenty of pundits thought that the gun lobby would have carte blanche in Virginia this session, there was a remarkable level of pushback from both sides of the aisle. While the media focused on the one-handgun-a-month repeal and a new law that prevents localities from fingerprinting those applying for concealed handgun permits, other gun-lobby priorities, such as allowing guns on college campuses, repealing Virginia’s background-check system and expanding the “castle doctrine” (legal immunity for those who defend themselves against intruders at home) were stopped, along with approximately two dozen lower-priority bills. Additionally, two bills that would make it harder for domestic abusers to carry firearms passed the Senate. The gun lobby has lost some clout in Richmond because a powerful grass-roots movement, led by survivors of the horrific shootings at Virginia Tech in 2007, has organized into an effective opposition, helping Virginians keep their families and communities free from gun violence.
Let's address that last claim first. For the last four years, individuals associated with victims of the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting have lobbied the General Assembly to close the non-existent "gun show loophole." To date they have had no success. They also lobbied Governor McDonnell to veto the repeal of Virginia's handgun rationing law. Again, they failed. Does this sound like a "powerful grass-roots movement" to you?
Regarding pro-rights groups having "carte blanche" to pass pro-rights legislation during the General Assembly, both the NRA and VSSA had rather modest priorities for the session. VSSA's priorities were repeal of one gun-a-month and passage of Castle Doctrine. We also supported repeal of fingerprinting for first time concealed handgun permit (CHP) applicants, clarification of the "Emergency Powers" law, restricting the ability for localities to engage in compensated confiscation schemes ("gun buybacks"), and bills streamlining CHP application procedures. All in all, a rather modest list of priorities. It is true that the NRA asked for a bill to be introduced that would do away with the state police background check and have the state use the federal NICS check. That bill however never really garnered support from gun owners as there is a school of thought that why force gun owners to rely on federal checks when the state can do it. Yes, Virginia charges a $2 fee and the feds do not, and there have been some delays in state checks in tight budget times, but we all remember the backlogs during the Clinton years when NICS all but shut down on major sales days like Black Friday.
VSSA and NRA was successful in having an amendment included in both the House and Senate Budget to provide more funding to the State Police for background checks. We will have to wait on the final budget currently being considered in the special session to see if we met with success in the final budget.
Senator Howell would have readers believe that the only victories for gun owners during the 2012 General Assembly were repeal of handgun rationing and repeal of the local option to fingerprint first time CHP applicants. Lets review what passed this year and anti-rights bills defeated:
HB 20: Emergency Services & Disaster Law; shall not be interpreted to prohibit carrying, etc., of firearms.
HB 22: Firearms; disposition thereof acquired by localities. (restrictions on compensated confiscation)
HB 26: Concealed handgun permit; failure to produce upon demand of a law-enforcement officer, penalty
HB 364: Criminal history record information; record check to be performed on prospective transferee. (annual gun show bill)
HB 375: Firearms; workplace rules by localities.
HB 458: Firearms; locality may adopt an ordinance that prohibits in libraries.
HB 754/SB 67: Concealed handgun permit applications; removes option for locality to require applicant fingerprint.
HB 940/SB 323: Handguns; eliminates prohibition on purchasing more than one in a 30-day period.
SB 563: Concealed handgun permits; application procedures.
That's not a bad list of accomplishments for the year. It is true that campus carry went nowhere but that is not a change from previous years. It has never had a hearing. Most folks would consider that a positive for the anti-rights folks only if it had received positive action in the past and is now not being considered. Castle Doctrine did pass both houses for the first time but then got hung up in concerns that the bills may negatively impact current protections in Virginia common law. In the end, both houses decided they did not have time to deal with fixing the bills to insure they did no harm so one was defeated, and one carried over so that it can at least be considered in the interim.
Howell also considers another positive for gun banners to be polling numbers from Christopher Newport University that found 66 percent of voters statewide wanted to retain the one-handgun-a-month law. She also touts a poll conducted of in what she calls two south western Virginia Senate Districts. According to that poll:
●Voters in both districts want to make gun laws stronger, not less restrictive.First, no one has proposed doing away with background checks, only eliminating the state check in favor of the federal check. Be that as it may, one would think such findings would have already impacted elections. Howell says these finding show just how much the politics of guns is misunderstood in Virginia.
●More than seven in 10 voters oppose guns on campus.
●More than six in 10 voters oppose the repeal of one-gun-a-month.
●Ninety-four percent of gun owners support universal background checks.
Howell is not the first anti-rights person to spin something positive out of annual legislative defeats, and she won't be the last.