Monday, January 25, 2021
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Andrew Goddard: A Huge Year for “Gun Rights” in Virginia?

by Andrew Goddard (Legislative Director, Virginia Center for Public Safety; President, Richmond and Hampton Roads Chapters of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence) With...

Victory for “Gun Rights” or for the Gun Industry?

Yesterday, the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted overwhelmingly in support of two so-called "gun rights" bills.

HB 2029, by Delegate Tony Wilt (R), actually was a mixed bag, part of which would finally bring the background check for obtaining a Concealed Handgun Permit (CHP) in the Commonwealth into line with the background check that citizens need to pass in order to purchase their handgun in the first place.  For too long, the existing system has relied on a less thorough background check for permit applicants, thus creating a crazy paradox whereby some people, whom the Commonwealth deemed worthy of carrying a loaded and hidden handgun almost anywhere in Virginia, were actually not allowed by law to own that gun in the first place!

If the bill ended there, then there would be no real problem, but NO! Instead, Delegate Wilt's real purpose with this bill was to then allow permit holders to buy as many guns as they want, from a federally licensed dealer, without having to be subjected to that "onerous" instant background check. Sounds fair you might think, but not if you look a little deeper.

Permits last for five years and a lot can happen to a person in five years. Each year, hundreds of permits are revoked by the Virginia State Police (VSP) for various reasons, including felony convictions, mental health adjudications and restraining orders etc. Although VSP can inform the local courts, which issued the permits, of the fact that the bearer is no longer entitled to possess the permit, there is no statutory language that requires the courts to actually physically remove the permits from the now disqualified individuals.  So, in theory at least, anyone who still has a paper permit would be able to buy guns for the remainder of the life of that permit without a background check, which they would have failed due to the condition that caused their permit to be revoked, had it been required.  

The CHP holders would still have to fill out the same Federal background check form as everyone else, but they would not need to complete the Virginia form and (of course) not wait a few minutes for the check to be run. This would require a little less effort on behalf of permit holders, but what price are we willing to pay as a Commonwealth to allow a few people to avoid filling out a single simple form? Must we now allow some people, with no legal right to own guns, to buy them unchecked from licensed dealers in the same way that we allow them to do from unlicensed sellers?  So much for public safety!

More MONKEY business at the General Assembly

Yesterday, in a surprise move, the Virginia Senate voted 36-1 to approve SB1315, Senator Lynwood Lewis's bill to ban pet monkeys. This was no doubt initiated in response to the clear and present threat spelled out in the latest movie episode of the Planet of the Apes.

Legislators who are quite shy about adopting legislation that would actually reduce gun violence by humans against other innocent humans, can obviously see where the real threat to our safety comes from. The recent record sales of guns in Virginia and the country as a whole, means that more and more pet monkeys would find themselves living in households where there is easy access to the type of weaponry they will need to finally begin the process of subjugating humans and taking over the planet.

The bill now goes to the House of Delegates, where it may receive a cooler reception, especially from the members who frequently climb onto their desks and throw feces at their colleagues.  There is also a rumor that Delegate Marshall may introduce an emergency companion bill to amend the Virginia Constitution to prevent any possible future adoption of Simian Law.

Although Jon Stewart could not immediately be reached for comment, there are reliable reports that, on hearing this news he was seen clasping his hands together, looking heavenwards, and mouthing the words "Thank You."  Oh how we Virginians miss being the laughing stock of the nation.  What kind of circus doesn't have trained monkeys?

“A Victory for Gun Rights.” Really? Let’s Look at Some of Those “Rights.”

Many recent news reports have trumpeted the dismissal of a raft of gun violence prevention legislation as a "Victory for Gun Rights."  Despite the fact that gun's don't actually have any rights, I would like to enumerate, for those not present at the General Assembly, a representative sample of exactly which "rights" were victorious as a result of these actions. Taking just the 12 bills that were dismissed last night, in House Militia, Police and Public Safety, as an example,

The following "rights" remain intact - with the demise of the bill attempting to repeal those "rights" listed, along with the Patron's name:

HB2085 (Murphy) - Addressed the "right" of convicted violent abusers to maintain access to the very firearms that they may have been using to terrorize or dominate their family members.  This bill would have temporarily removed that right and subsequently allowed the abuser to restore their rights - even to remove the current lifetime prohibition imposed by Federal Law!  (Another case of, Fire, Ready, Aim, by the gun lobby working against their own interests - however, that is their "right".)  In a surprise move, the subcommittee failed to accept a proposed substitute bill from the patron, due to the lack of a second. This was the first time I had seen that delicate maneuver in 8 years of watching sausage made!

HB2232 (Surovell) - Attempted to restrict the "right" for people who are prohibited from purchasing firearms, due to serious mental illness (think Cho), to be able to purchase, transport and possess ammunition. Presumably for the firearms that they are prevented from purchasing, transporting or possessing. ("Bullets don't kill people, empty firearms kill people")

The State of the Gunonwealth (satire – in case you didn’t notice!)

The circus is in town again, so it's time for my annual blog post about the "State of the Gunonwealth." It's time to see what came tumbling out to the clown car again this year, at least regarding firearms legislation. As in previous years, there's plenty of crazy to go around. So here is a brief roundup of some of the high, or should I say low points, of the firearms bills:

This year we have two bills to allow concealed carry in the "unsecured" parts of our air terminals. Seems we can't rely solely on the increasing number of highly trained and competent individuals that show up at TSA checkpoints, with loaded guns that they "forgot they had," to keep us safe. After all, should a rampaging hoard of AQAP members come spilling out of one of the many Yemeni Airways flights to Richmond international or an ISIL pickup truck take a wrong turn outside Mosul and find itself in the airport parking lot in Roanoke, we need to be able to rely on Gary and his Glock to protect all the passengers from being mowed down in the baggage claim area.
Either that, or see him shooting off a significant part of his manhood during a "wardrobe malfunction" in front of the urinals.

Not satisfied with turning our airports into a scene from a Rambo movie, there are several bills that would "enhance the security" of our school kids, despite the fact that most of them are already safer in school than they are in their homes. A brilliant idea to decriminalize the carry of knives of all sizes, Ninja throwing stars, blackjacks and even ballistic knives for anyone in, or on the bus to or from, Private and Religious schools would certainly spice up the Kindergarten classes. This "Baptist Babies with Blackjacks" bill might not make you feel like immediately transferring your kid from Public to a Private school, but if you do want to, make sure they are packing a tazer on the first day of class, or at least a set of suitably sized brass knuckles.  

Virginia GOP Backs Firearms Background Check Bill? Say What?

As hard as it may seem to believe, there was a firearms background check bill that sailed through the Virginia General Assembly this year, with unanimous/bipartisan support. So, how did that amazing thing come about? Let me explain, but let's start with a little background.

Since the Brady background check system came into being in the late 1990's, just over 2.1 million people - who had lost their right to own firearms due to felony convictions, severe mental illness etc. - were prevented from buying guns from licensed dealers. In all these cases, the buyers had to fill out forms and voluntarily subject themselves to a background check, which they failed and were then denied the gun purchase. However, during the same time period, an unknown number of ineligible buyers were able to purchase guns from "private" or unlicensed sellers without having to divulge even the most basic identifying data, such as name, age or state of residency. Estimates vary slightly, but the volume of sales transacted by unlicensed sellers is thought to be about 40% of all gun sales. The pro-gun lobby would have us believe that, despite the fact that millions of licensed dealer sales have been blocked, due to the buyer not being eligible, felons, mentally ill people and other prohibited individuals do not take advantage of this huge, unregulated marketplace to obtain guns that they have no legal right to own.

Oh Irony, Thy Name is NRA!

Yesterday, in a Senate Courts of Justice committee meeting, Mr. Charles (Chuck) Cunningham, the top lobbyist for the NRA, rose to speak in favor of a bill dealing with technical issues relating to firearms background checks.  The bill, SB610 sponsored by Senator Cosgrove, was described as intending to supply more criminal history and protective order records to the Federal government for inclusion in the NICS background check database.

Mr. Cunningham made compelling and well-thought-out (but perhaps a little convoluted) arguments for sending such data to the NICS system. In theory, supplying this data would prevent Virginians with temporary prohibitions on purchasing firearms due either to juvenile crimes or behavior that resulted in them being named in a protective order, from buying firearms in other states.  This would include when a prohibited Virginian establishes a residence in another state and buys a handgun, or simply travels to another state and buys a shotgun or rifle, which can be sold across state lines in some cases. Cosgrove rightly pointed out that under the current system, Virginia State Police, who administer the Virginia Firearms Transaction Program (VFTP), do not share juvenile prohibition data or protective order information with the NICS system. Therefore, if a Virginian subject to one of these temporary prohibitions, attempts to buy a firearm in Virginia, the VFTP would catch them, prevent the sale and most likely prosecute them for lying on their application form.  But, if they tried the same purchase in another state, these prohibitions would not be detected and the sale would be allowed.

So far, I am sure you are thinking;  "this bill sounds like a good idea." I agree, but let's look at the situation more closely.

A tale of two rallies.

Yesterday was Martin Luther King Jr. day and the State Capitol in Virginia saw two rallies near the bell tower that could not have been more different.  In the morning, the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) gathered around 150-200 supporters to pump themselves up in support of efforts to expand gun ownership rights, by weakening or eliminating the few remaining state laws that govern the issue.  They all wore orange stickers proclaiming the main tenet of their faith - GUNS SAVE LIVES, a  concept that they hold dear regardless of the mountains of evidence that show that guns END many more lives than they SAVE.
In the afternoon, Gun Violence Prevention (GVP) groups flooded the same spot with between 350-400 supporters, in a crowd that several reporters curiously described as "greatly outnumbered" by the gun rights folks!  The afternoon event was the 21st annual vigil of the Virginia Center for Public Safety (VACPS), which brings people together to honor the many Virginians killed and injured in the last year.  The figures used at this year's vigil came from 2012, when a total of 822 Virginians died from gunfire.  
Apart from the polar opposite intentions of the two events, the other most obvious difference was in the response of the Capitol Police.  While the VCDL supporters were able to carry loaded firearms unchallenged, everything from handguns to "modern sporting rifles" like the AR15, the GVP supporters, armed simply with a few paper signs, did not fare so well.  You see, a handful of GVP supporters ignored organizers recommendations and brought with them a few small US flags, mounted on equally small wooden sticks.  Rather surprisingly, the presence of the small flag sticks raised the ire of the Capitol police as "dangerous" objects, an odd response when you consider that loaded rifles, in the possession of people who happily proclaim their right to overthrow the elected government by force of arms (should they decide that it is necessary), seemed to be accepted as benign.
Not only were the sticks a point of contrast, so was the procedure for allowing these two disparate groups to enter the General Assembly building to talk to their elected legislators.  While the heavily armed VCDL supporters were allowed to enter the building expeditiously via a side door and bypass the metal detectors with their loaded weapons, the pacifist GVP supporters from the vigil were made to file slowly through the metal detectors, needless to say without those incredibly dangerous and thus prohibited flags on sticks.
Looks to me like we need to rethink our definition of "assault weapons" to include this new category of hand held symbols of "the land of the free and the home of the brave", namely small US flags on sticks!

“Masterful exploitation of procedure” or “dirty pool”?

For many years the radical gun rights groups have been trying to hide any information on Concealed Handgun Permit (CHP) holders from the eyes of the public.  They have been aided in this process by the ever vigilant folks at ALEC, who have been pushing this legislation in state houses around the nation.  The underlying reason used to justify this secrecy has always been the severe threat to the safety of CHP holders posed by unscrupulous newspapers printing the names of local CHP holders.  This supposedly makes them the target for thieves who wish to steal their weapons.  Never mind the repeated assertion, by the same pro gun extremists, that keeping a gun in the home makes thieves less likely to target your home.  The more likely reason, for the attempts to hide this information, center around the embarrassment caused when CHP holders are found to have committed murders or other serious gun crimes while purporting to be members of a select group of the most law abiding and "safe" gun owners in society.  The fact that mass killers like Speight, Nidal Hassan, and many others, who shot to death dozens of people in recent years, all had Virginia Concealed Handgun Permits, must have been a serious embarrassment to those that seek to perpetuate the myth that CHP's are only being obtained by the cream of the gun owning crop.  Sadly anyone looking at the seriously inadequate application process, that is now little more than a permit vending service, would realize that almost anyone could obtain a CHP these days regardless of their integrity or lack of it!

In recent years, several bills to hide CHP data have failed to pass muster at the GA, often facing opposition from the likes of; gun violence prevention groups, open government advocates and the press association.  One argument that did have some merit, though it sounded very farfetched, was the idea that a person who takes out a restraining order against a spouse, or other person threatening their life, moves to a new address, purchases a gun for protection and obtains a CHP to "enhance that protection" outside the home, could be endangered by the publishing of their new address in a newspaper.  Ignore for a moment the cumulative improbability of those circumstances all happening in a case where the potential aggressor does not have any other way of finding where there alleged victim now lives, like say the phone book or via mutual acquaintances, friends or relatives, and there may be a point.

This year Senator Obenshain decided to introduce a bill that was narrowly tailored to prevent exactly that improbable event just described.  The bill (SB1335) would have targeted only those who had restraining orders, had obtained a CHP (and presumably changed address).  It would have hidden their basic information only for the period of the restraining order.  The bill was so narrowly defined that it faced no opposition in the Senate Courts from the usual suspects and was reported out 14-1, eventually passing the Senate by a vote of 39-1.  None of the organizations usually opposed to hiding CHP data bothered to speak against this narrowly worded and finely targeted legislation.

However, once the bill passed over to the House, that's when everything changed!  When the bill was placed before the House Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee #1, an amendment was offered by the patron, which gutted all the language relating to protective orders and the bill was transformed into a fully fledged "permanently hide the CHP data for every permit holder" bill, which will no doubt pass the full house with ease.  The only way that this bill could still be stopped is if the Speaker of the House, who seems to be the authority on "germaneness" these days, rules that removing the obvious target of narrowly targeted legislation by amendment, makes that amendment "non germane".  Should that not be possible, then the only chance comes with the joint conference committee which will review the amendment after it passes the house, but the effectiveness of that depends on the selection of committee members.

Don't get me wrong, I too think that publishing lists of CHP holders with no valid reason, has little or no value to the public welfare, but you decide - was this "masterful exploitation of procedure", to get a piece of legislation through the Senate that would have had a poor chance of passing, or was this dirty pool?

What can we appear to do about gun violence, without actually doing anything?

While the Governor's Commission has recommended some interesting and useful actions regarding; information sharing, threat assessment teams, lockdown drills and security upgrades for facilities, the two actions related to firearms are not particularly impressive.  Both bills, that have arisen from the Commission, are simply reactive and would do little to prevent a potential attacker from obtaining the weapons needed to carry out a school attack. Both bills rely on the unproven deterrence of increased sentencing, which would only come into effect AFTER an attack was completed.  Once an armed individual with evil intentions sets foot in a location, determined to carry out a suicidal attack, the best that anyone can hope for is to minimize casualties, not avoid them altogether.  Clearly the reaction to other legislation, that has already been defeated this session, show that there is a complete disdain by the Republican led administration for taking any proactive measures designed to prevent an ineligible or otherwise dangerous person from obtaining firearms.

Looking at the bills individually:

SB 1377 Stewart:  Increases the penalty for bringing firearms or explosives onto school property, with the "intent" of using them in a felony.

SB 1378 Garrett:  Increases the penalty for straw purchasing a firearm, both for the straw purchaser and the actual ineligible buyer.

Violent individuals that are already barred from owning firearms obtain those weapons from 3 main sources:

1.  Purchase from unlicensed sellers in transactions that are totally anonymous and require no background check.  Several efforts to change that were defeated.

2. Theft from gun owners who do not properly secure their weapons, either directly by the individual or through a black market sale from the original thieves.  It is hard to deter theft by legislation, but requiring gun owners to take measures to better secure their weapons and creating some form of liability for negligence would help.  A bill that would have done that was defeated.

3. Straw purchase by individuals with clean backgrounds on behalf of ineligible buyers.  This is very difficult to spot and to prosecute due to several inadequacies in the law.  First it is too easy for the buyer to simply claim that a firearm traced back to them from a crime scene was "lost or stolen" from them at some point.  Requiring lost/stolen firearms reporting would take away that excuse and make straw purchasing much more risky.  A bill requiring that was defeated.  Currently a person can buy a firearm from a dealer and then legally sell that weapon to anyone without any regard to that person's eligibility to own a firearm.  In order to prosecute for straw purchasing it would be necessary to observe the purchase and to prove that the individuals involved had prior knowledge that the subsequent transfer was illegal.  The straw buyer would still be able to claim that they purchased the weapon in good faith, but then decided to sell it as they "changed their mind" or "didn't like the feel of the weapon" etc.  It could also be difficult to prove without doubt that the straw buyer was aware that the person to whom they subsequently transferred the weapon was ineligible to own it.  Simply increasing the penalty for such an action does nothing to make that activity easier to detect or less likely to occur.

It used to be said that "an ounce of prevention was better than a pound of cure", however these two bills SB 1377 and SB 1378 seem to concentrate on just "an ounce of cure".

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