|RICHMOND (June 30, 2020) – Attorney General Mark R. Herring today filed a brief defending Virginia’s expanded background checks as constitutional and a proven measure to keep firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals, noting that the expanded background checks close easily-exploited loopholes in “Virginia’s previously porous firearm purchase background check system.” Last week, the gun lobby filed a lawsuit in Lynchburg Circuit Court challenging the constitutionality of Virginia’s new expanded background checks. The new law is set to go into effect tomorrow, July 1st.
In the brief, Attorney General Herring explains that Virginia’s old background check system was full of easily-exploited loopholes that dangerous individuals used to obtain a firearm. He argues that, in order “to close loopholes, prevent tragedies, and save lives, the General Assembly has taken lawful and constitutional steps to expand existing background check requirements and make it less likely that felons, domestic abusers, and those adjudicated mentally ill—persons already barred by state and federal law from possessing a firearm—will get their hands on deadly weapons, while preserving the ability of those who may lawfully obtain and possess firearms to do.”
“Virginia’s expanded background checks were put in place to make sure that guns stayed out of the hands of dangerous individuals and people who are already legally barred from owning a firearm like felons, domestic abusers, and those who have been deemed dangerously mentally ill,” said Attorney General Herring. “This commonsense gun safety measure closes easily abused loopholes, like the private sales loophole, that have enabled so many dangerous people to obtain firearms in the past that have eventually been used to commit crimes or other acts of violence.
“Too many Virginians have lost their lives at the end of a gun for far too long. This past November Virginians voted to change that status quo and the General Assembly finally delivered. I look forward to defending this important gun safety measure in court and ensuring that our communities and our families are protected from gun violence.”
In the brief, Attorney General Herring highlights the devastation that guns have caused in the Commonwealth saying that “more than a thousand Virginians are killed each year by gunfire. Throughout the Commonwealth, families and communities know the pain of firearms-related suicides, accidental fatal shootings, mass shootings, and interpersonal, workplace, or intimate-partner violence that claim the lives of Virginians in urban, suburban, and rural communities.”
Attorney General Herring notes that much of the gun violence Virginia has seen over the years has been “perpetuated by people who were already legally prohibited from possessing a firearm but were nevertheless able to acquire one by exploiting” one of the many loopholes in Virginia’s current background check system.
The brief explains that an “overwhelming majority of states” as well as federal law block “certain categories of people” from owning a firearm, adding that “since 1989, Virginians who purchase firearms from a ‘firearms dealer’…have been required to undergo a background check” and “since 1993, federal law has also required a similar process.”
Attorney General Herring also goes into detail about the loopholes that these expanded background checks would help close. The brief says that the private-sale loophole “has real consequences” noting that “80% of firearms acquired for criminal purposes are obtained via private sales and…96% of those who commit firearms-related crimes despite being legally prohibited from possessing them obtained the firearm via a private sale.”
Finally, Attorney General Herring notes that these expanded background checks are constitutional, saying “the Supreme Court of Virginia and the United States Supreme Court have made clear that both ‘longstanding prohibitions on the possession of firearms by felons and the mentally ill’ and ‘laws imposing conditions and qualifications on the commercial sale of arms’ are fully consistent with the constitutionally protected right to keep and bear arms.”
Last week, Attorney General Herring was successful in defending Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month law against the gun lobby’s attacks in Goochland County Circuit Court. In that case, Judge Timothy K. Sanner found that the gun lobby was unlikely to succeed in convincing the Court that the law was unconstitutional.
This year, the General Assembly passed historic gun safety legislation that Attorney General Herring fought for during his time both as a state senator and as attorney general. In addition to reinstating the one-handgun-a-month law, the legislation included universal background checks, an Extreme Risk Protective Order, a mandate to report a lost or stolen firearm, among others.