Surovell: Time for Virginia to pass gun reforms

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This column was submitted by State Sen. Scott Surovell (D-36), and does not necessarily represent the views of Covering The Corridor

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has called the state legislature to Richmond this week for a special session to focus on measures to reduce firearm violence in the state. Addressing this problem is long overdue.

Last year, guns killed more people than car accidents in Virginia. The majority of those deaths were people committing suicide.

Surovell headshot

Just last week, three people were shot in the Fairfax County portion of the 36th District in Gum Springs and Rose Hill. The week before that, two people were found shot to death in the woods off Featherstone Road in Woodbridge.

Over the last 10 years I have served in the General Assembly, we have passed one bill that represents progress on this problem. In 2016, Attorney General Mark Herring issued an opinion that ended the state’s practice of recognizing out-of-state concealed weapons permits from states with protections that are not as robust Virginia’s. This also meant that Virginia concealed weapon permit holders could not carry concealed weapons in those other states.

This was so alarming to firearm advocates that they were willing to allow the Commonwealth to pass a statute requiring the subjects of protective orders – necessitated by domestic violence – to surrender their weapons while the order was in place in return for restoration of concealed weapon reciprocity rules. That is it.

During my 10 years in elective office, Virginia repealed the one-gun-a-month rule that had curtailed Virginia’s prominent role in gun trafficking. General Assembly committees have routinely killed bills to address gun violence that I cosponsored. One example: A bill to ban magazine extensions like those used to kill 10 people in Virginia Beach last month or wound Congressman Gabby Giffords, 13 others and killed six people. A committee killed State Sen. Adam Ebbin’s effort to ban the type of bump stocks used to kill 59 people and shoot 422 others in Las Vegas.

I have carried legislation to require background checks on all firearm sales which would end the gun show loophole, a current law that allows sales without background checks. Ninety percent of Virginians support this, polls show, but legislative committees kill these bills every year.

Governor Northam has also asked us to consider a ban on assault weapons such as the AR-15 that the D.C. Snipers used to kill 17 people and wound 10 more all over the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area in 2002. That same weapon was used in Las Vegas, Newtown, Aurora, Orlando, Sandy Hook, Texas Church, San Bernadino, Waffle House and Santa Fe High School.

I am also cosponsoring legislation to create so-called “red flag” orders which would allow an individual to petition a judge to issue a temporary order requiring a suicidal individual to surrender their weapons. This concept is even supported by the President, but it is opposed by firearms rights advocates.

The current U.S. Supreme Court has reinterpreted 200 years of jurisprudence to hold that the Constitution provides some protections for purchasing and owning firearms, but as with all constitutional rights, there are limits. We have Constitutional protections for free speech, for example, but no one can maliciously defame someone with false speech, threaten physical harm or shout fire in a crowded movie theater. Each of the measures that I have described in this column is a reasonable limitation that will not curb anyone’s ability to hunt or defend themselves person or their family.

I will try to make progress this week, but when one of my colleagues claims guns prevent rape and the state senator whose district saw 10 people murdered last month will not even consider changing his opposition to measures like this, I am not optimistic.

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