Gun Issues Return to Capitol Monday, Tuesday

by Steve Haner

Proposed firearms regulations will pack a General Assembly meeting room Monday and Tuesday, and for that portion of the population not already locked into an ideological position either way, it could be useful to pay attention.

The Republican majorities have taken some political bashing for failing to act on the flood of proposals, many previously seen and rejected, that showed up when Governor Ralph Northam sought to railroad them through a hasty special session after the Virginia Beach shooting.  But the ideas are going to get a better hearing at the Crime Commission next week than they would have when introduced. 

Not that Monday and Tuesday won’t be a circus.  The Crime Commission has issued special directives about access to the committee room, the largest in the Pocahontas Building, and how speakers should conduct themselves in Tuesday afternoon’s public hearing portion.

Attorney General Mark Herring chose last week, on the eve of this meeting, to issue an opinion that might be used to rein in any actions by armed citizens play acting at being real peace officers or militia.   He was responding to Delegate Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), who complained that similar activity at the special session intimidated citizens lined up outside the Pocahontas Building.  It was likely a class 1 misdemeanor, he said.  

With that, the action outside the building could get as interesting as inside.  All of which argues for watching the hearing via streaming, or just reviewing the presentations later if they are posted on the Crime Commission’s website.

The Crime Commission’s reports and recommendations are well respected, usually.  Republicans have six of the nine legislative seats, but there are three gubernatorial appointees and Herring’s chief deputy sits on the panel in his stead.  This is not some 7 a.m. subcommittee meeting where bills will die before the coffee cools.

And the first day is dominated by eight relevant background reports, bound to irritate or cheer one camp or the other, with both probably unhappy over something that they hear.  Neither side welcomes challenges to its conclusions.  However, even the Washington Post can’t ignore some facts.  Who knew that felons could still get guns and shoot cops?  It was news to the Post that crooks ignore sensible gun safety laws, apparently.

The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms will report on the state of federal law.  The Virginia State Police will talk about firearms transactions and ties to gun violence.  The Virginia Department of Health and the Office of Chief Medical Examiner will have hard numbers on Virginia injuries and deaths.  There will be more of a national focus in the afternoon, including a report from the U.S. Secret Service that may focus on a study already mentioned on Bacon’s Rebellion.

The second day, starting at noon because of the Governor’s morning presentation to the money committees on Fiscal Year 2019 data, will turn to public comments and then – after all that – patron presentations of their bills.  Here’s the list as it stands.  They’ll get only a few minutes each, if that.

With President Donald Trump’s recent vague endorsement of more widespread background checks (universal is a myth) and some form of “red flag” gun confiscation scheme those approaches may take on more steam in the U.S. Senate.  Whether they gain enough Republican votes to pass the Virginia General Assembly post-election remains to be seen, but their state passage in 2020 if there is a power shift is all but assured.

The General Assembly flips and Christmas shopping lists in many households will add a stop at Green TopHmm, a sale on Smith and Wesson.

A late legislative entry that has drawn some cautious bipartisan support was offered by House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert.  His House Bill 4032 is focused on broad violence prevention efforts, reaching far beyond the mentally unstable or ideologically motivated mass murderers who have driven this back to front burner.  Richmond weekends have ended recently with dead and wounded counts that are simply slow-motion mass murder.

The special session is not set to meet again until after the November elections, and given the total partisan divide on the issue it is reasonable to give the voters a chance.  They won’t admit it, but a successful compromise that defused the issue now is hardly the Democrats’ goal.  They want a clear message of vote for us and get gun control.   Unless things really quiet down nationally, we have our number one issue for this election.

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27 responses to “Gun Issues Return to Capitol Monday, Tuesday

  1. I look forward to seeing research and data on Virginia gun control efforts. I don’t trust either side of their particular debate to do anything other than hammer away on their usual talking points. I do trust law enforcement authorities to be honest brokers of data. I sense that among many Virginians — at least in my social milieu, which admittedly does not include a lot of gun owners — there is strong support for (a) severely restricting the deadliness of weapons that people are allowed to own, and (b) keeping guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and people with mental issues.

    At the same time, I acknowledge that it is problematic to take away someone’s gun before he has committed a crime. And I totally endorse the concept that everyone has the right to self defense. There are no simple solutions. If there were, we would have adopted them already.

  2. Here is my take … printed in the Times Dispatch recently ….
    Why do need to have complicated arguments about gun laws? It is very clear that haters have carried out the mass shootings. There will always be haters, but there need not always be assault weapons. We can put an end to the horror of these mass killings by banning the guns of choice for mass shooters, guns designed for war, not hunting or personal safety. It’s not that complicated.

  3. The thing is we already restrict guns – try buying a fully automatic 50 caliber gun. And there ARE folks out there who do own older 50-cal weapons, more than 500,000 of them.

    So while we say there is no such thing as “universal” registration and that we can’t stop all mentally ill from getting a gun – so far – we do, in fact have 100% universal registration for the 50-cal gun AND so far – not one wacko has gotten his hands on one and enough ammunition to kill hundreds. Thank God for all of us.

    So we have this fetid hypocrisy with respect to “restricting gun rights” and universally registering gun owners. We do that right now – not only for 50 cal weapons but dozens of others that are just as deadly – like bazookas or stinger missiles, etc. Ownership of military-grade weapons is severely restricted and the government does have a registry of all of the owners.

    But I had a question about the GOP “compromise”.. was it always on the table and the Dems rejected it or did it come out once the GOP realized they could lose the majority in the General Assembly. So bad!

    Our country has gone off it’s rocker on this issue. Virtually no one wants anyone (much less wackos) to be able to buy a fully automatic 50 caliber machine gun… right? .. and much less be forced to “register” it or prove they are not a wacko.

    So apparently for some, as long as the weapon is not quite as deadly as the 50 cal automatic or dozens of other similar weapons, – it’s “okay”… and if some wacko gets his hands on one and kills a bunch of folks – OH WELL – we can’t stop mentally ill from buying these guns BEFORE they kill someone, right?

    Common sense as gone down the tubes……… when we can’t even see or refuse to acknowledge that we ALREADY restrict SOME deadly weapons but for some reason we can’t restrict others.

  4. Larry,
    It is my understanding the national assault weapon ban was allowed to lapse. I know nothing about guns and haven’t handled one since I was a kid and my neighbor owned a BB gun.

    I fail to understand why anyone needs to buy a AR15. They are made to kill fast, not to hunt or protect anything. Some manufacturers boast that an experienced shooter could fire as many as 45 rounds in one minute. Magazines containing fresh ammunition can be swapped out in a matter of seconds.

    “The specifications of assault-style rifles vary depending on ammunition, but many tests put the muzzle velocity of a standard round from an AR-15 at 3,200 feet per second, making it accurate up to 500 yards ― more than a quarter-mile. This makes rounds from an AR-15 or other assault-style weapons far more devastating than those fired from small-caliber handguns.”

    In addition, not allowing those guns to be sold to the public, Beto O’Rourke and others have proposed a buy back for assault weapons. Makes sense to me, as does the idea that getting rid of high capacity magazines that turn other rifles into AR 15’s.

    These horrible mass shootings cannot be carried out without the ability to shoot so many, so fast. Seems only common sense to stop their availability to the public.

  5. Steve, good summary, although you took a cheap shot at the Post. I read the article and did not detect any hint of a surprise. Instead, it discussed the limitations of background checks, which have been obvious all along.

    So, the next obvious step would be to address the availability of firearms. And Jane and Larry have already identified the worst offender—AR-15 assault rifles. I would add automatic pistols. The Post article described how one can make an assault weapon from parts available over the internet. Federal legislation will be needed for that problem.

    • Being a bit facetious is not a cheap shot. 🙂 When the bloody obvious is reported as news, it is noteworthy. (“Sun rises in east!”) Fine with me if they shut down the purveyors of those kits for adapting semi-auto rifles into fully-auto rifles….just like the bump stocks should be forbidden. Good luck getting everybody to obey. Lord knows once something it illegal nobody can get it, right, certainly not off the net? I agree that if steps like that are taken, doing so at the federal level might improve that outcome. Won’t stop the violence.

  6. Herring’s legal skills are marginal, at best. I’ve read some of the briefs his office has filed under his signature. I’d be ashamed to sign quite a few of them, including one where he argued the state can regulate interstate commerce.

    I think the state could bar private individuals from impersonating police or national guard soldier. There may be something to his opinion about working in a coordinated method. But why can’t a person open carry outside a public building or concealed carry with a proper permit? Herring’s reasoning is stretched and weak.

  7. Odd that the chosen photo shows what appear to be hunting shotguns not high velocity and large magazine assault rifles, which, of course, uis the point being evaded.

    • Peter, how do you define an assault rifle? It’s actually a very important issue as manufacturers will create weapons that don’t fit the definition.

    • Just a stock photo already loaded in the website’s image file, but you can read a nefarious intent if you wish. Once the ban you seek fails to stop the violence, you’ll come after other semi-automatics. Then all long rifles. Just be honest and propose repeal of the 2nd Amendment.

  8. Is anyone else excited that the war on drugs is potentially going to transition to a war on guns? I don’t know that this will work out well for anyone.
    Logic makes me think we should just make murder illegal… oh wait…
    And while we’re saying people don’t need this or that:
    Can we ban cars that will go faster than 70? Or motorcycles and bikes. They get a bunch of people killed too. And no one “needs” them.
    Houses greater than 1,500 sq ft for global warming sake.
    Swimming without properly certified lifeguards at all times.
    Etc.
    If we’re going to call balls and strikes call them all. Especially if you want to be righteous… for humanity, and the kids, and all.

  9. You should have seen the shopping cart ahead of me yesterday, loaded with high test sugar drinks. But in fairness that is people killing themselves and their kids, not strangers.

  10. I never said i wanted to repeal the second amendment but high capacity magazines, silencers and stuff meant exactly to shoot humans are fair game for restriction

    • Actually, I can live with that myself, but a semi-auto simply masquerading as an assault rifle is still just a semi-auto. I just want fair recognition that the biggest problem is the propensity, even the glorification, of violence in our culture. The carnage on the streets of Richmond is perpetrated with very basic weapons, but dead is dead. There was no silencer on the gun that killed the girl in the park on Memorial Day, but the silence of the witnesses is a huge tragedy.

  11. We know that repeated efforts at explaining why gay relationships should be treated similar to straight relationships made a huge difference in public acceptance/toleration of both gays and gay marriage in a relatively short period of time. In 1998, for example, I was asked by an outstate local bar association to represent a gay business on a telecommunications matter that other lawyers did not want to take. I did handle the matter. It would be unimaginable today for most qualified lawyers to turn down this request and for a gay business to be required to go to a local bar association for help.

    Yet, we are led to believe that the constant barrage of violence and the glorification of violence does not effect behavior by individuals. But so long as the providers of violent entertainment support, and contribute to, Democrats, the only proper belief is they don’t affect individuals. Only guns and gun owners, many of whom support GOP candidates, are the cause of violence. Ring 9 of Hell will be populated by most modern journalists. And that can’t come too soon.

    • The percentage of American households owning guns today is the same as it was in 1972. So, why the increase in mass shootings? The AR-15 was originally designed in 1956. Lots of Americans owned lots of guns (including some very lethal varieties) for a long time. Why the rise in mass shootings?

      Something has changed.

      Liberal pseudo-researchers study a couple of hundred kids playing violent video games and conclude that they are no more violent after playing the games. Ditto for violent movies, violent TV programming, etc. Unfortunately, if one in a million kids loses track of reality while being bombarded by violence that’s 340 kids in America. 340 potential mass shooters.

      • There are certainly lots of reasons to evaluate and attempt to account for the huge increase in mass shootings since 2012. One study, corroborated by a different study from the FBI, determined that mass shootings have tripled in frequency in recent years.

        Here is a bit of assault weapon history … different from the idea of ‘total guns’ in circulation.
        “When legislatures first restricted the guns, few civilians owned them. Americans only started buying assault weapons in large numbers after the federal assault weapon ban expired in 2004. That year, there were only about 100,000 made by American manufacturers. Production skyrocketed after Barack Obama won the 2008 election, when domestic gunmakers manufactured almost 500,000 such weapons, and then again following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. In 2013, the gun industry pumped out nearly two million assault-style rifles.”

        So, the manufacturers have contributed greatly to the increase in mass shooting by producing these ‘weapons of war’ for the general public. According to CNN, the AR-15 is now perhaps the most popular single model of rifle in the country.

        I certainly agree that we should evaluate why our country is as prone to violence as it is, but an article in the Examiner points to the problem of enforcing a bunch of Red Flag laws. I don’t necessarily agree with the author, but he has a point.

        Limiting manufacturing and possibly a ‘buy back’ is a much clearer attempt at a solution. The increased manufacturing and promotion of those guns has been a primary factor in the tripling of mass shooting in recent years.

        • Jane, I disagree with much of your argument but respect it. First, we need a definition of assault weapons by function and not by look. I’m not suggesting you are proposing to define an assault weapon by look but lots of people do. I submit that a workable definition of an assault that focuses on essential differences between it and any other firearm. Otherwise, we are likely to have both an over- and under-inclusive regulation, assuming there is a regulation.

          I don’t think anyone has proposed a proper definition. When assault weapons were banned, manufacturers simply designed around the definition. They will do it again. Meanwhile some ordinary law-abiding people couldn’t own a firearm that they used for target practices.

          Gun manufacturers are not driving demand. They respond to it. People, be they on the left, right or center, generally don’t like the thought of the government taking away rights. Just as many women and men react negatively when they see restrictions imposed on abortion so too do many women and men when they see restrictions imposed on gun ownership. Bring Obama to the White House and you will see increased demand for firearms. I believe that firearm purchases are down somewhat since Trump took office. Had Clinton won, the trend would be reversed.

          And while I would not vote to overturn Roe v Wade if I were on the Supreme Court, the right to privacy in sexual matters no where exists in the text of our Constitution but was found from penumbra and emanations. Whereas, the personal right to bear arms is in the Second Amendment and contains a long history from the 1200s forward, including the Glorious Revolution of 1688 and the English Bill of Rights of 1689. The founders who drafted the Second Amendment drew on this history and personal understanding.

          Much of the blame for violence rests with the dishonest members of the media. By abandoning their traditional role of providing all sides to a story in favor of left-wing advocacy, they fan the flames of disagreement and anger. Society solves more problems when the public has the facts. And those facts include the effects of violent entertainment. And a refusal of government to go after illegal gun sales and possession. Let’s find some common ground.

  12. I almost responded to DJ, passed, but now I’ll respond to that. The media – games, TV, movies, music, even news coverage – are certainly a factor in my opinion. But there is more to the unfortunate culture of violence than those, and I would include intemperate political confrontation and incitement to violence and anger.

    • And if we had a more balanced exposition of the news and fact-driven commentary, we’d have fewer hostile political confrontations and less self-generated anger and violence.

      At the present time, I chair a reasonably large committee that includes people from all over the D.C. metro with vastly divergent views on damn near everything. We try to focus on facts, including the reasons for and against various proposals; be respectful of other’s views; and strive for consensus where we can find it. We also use the rules as given and not as we each like them to be. For example, we consider both the costs and the benefits of various proposals. We’ve worked successfully. And I’m hardly the first person to use this process. The exposition of more facts and information make people more likely to reach consensus and more accepting of divergent opinions than when a one-sided proposal is given.

  13. TMT,
    The rate of fire is where I stand … It’s way too high and designed for war.
    But, talk about the rate of fire for an automatic weapon is all over the board, firing from 90 – to 700 rounds rounds per minute as a fully automatic rifle, which evidently require a gas booster. As I understand it the firing rate of a fully automatic gun is well above the semi-automatic rate. Then firing rate also depends on who is doing the shooting and their trigger finger’s abililty.

    “Realistically, an experienced shooter can probably fire 3 rounds a second, at least to start. But every 30 rounds (ten seconds) they need to stop and reload. That reload will take about five seconds, unless you are VERY fast. So that’s 30 rounds in 15 seconds (effective fire rate of 120 rounds per minute, not 180). Few people will retain that fire rate through a full minute, probably slowing to closer to two rounds per second by the end. My guess is that an experienced shooter (though not a professional) is probably looking at around 90 rounds a minute of effective fire. You might be able to speed it up a bit if you sacrifice all accuracy and normal use of a firearm. An inexperienced shooter is going to be even less.”

    One article said the fastest shooter ever shot 5 rounds per second using the AR15. That’s still an overwhelming number of shots in a minute.

    Given those facts … from the point of view of protecting the public it makes little difference. I just don’t see the necessity of such rapid shot ability for personal safety or for a hunter, who should learn to be a much better shot!

    Regarding “driving demand”. I disagree. The gun manufacturers, through the NRA have dominated the discussion for 20+ years and grown stronger along the way. They pay for the lobbyists and both devise and ‘ground test’ their arguments, stoking fears about people losing their all guns. The Second Amendment was written as a personal protection during a very different technological time. That does not preclude some regulation.

    And I do agree about the problem of getting facts in today’s era of digital overload. The traditional ‘balanced news’, created when we had 3 TV stations and news was a loss to the stations, is in trouble. But the overload of information is not the primary problem. It is the myriad opportunities to manipulate that information.

    An article in the Guardian discusses those opportunities like: the growing list of states willilng to employ disinformation; the increasing effort to control information flows and therefore public opinion, quite often using – ironically enough – the specter of disinformation as the excuse to do so; Removing regulated, accountable and experienced journalists from the equation can only be deleterious to the public interest: the effectiveness of personalized propaganda such as that employed by Cambridge Analytica may still be debatable, there is no doubt long-term ‘nudging’ can be powerful.

    The fourth estate is a fundamental part of our political systems. The future is up for grabs. This author says the first thing we should do to protect our democracy is to reclaim our privacy, which means regulating the digital companies who have so far avoided all regs as they grew bigger and more powerful. That’s only a start.

    • Jane, kudos for proposing a technical definition of a semi-automatic weapon, using rounds per minute. It’s something experts of all opinions can begin to discuss. I hear anti-gun arguments in the community all of the time. Most begin by describing how a weapon looks. It’s refreshing to hear something based on function and performance.

      We’ll need to agree to disagree on manufacturers driving demand. Sure the NRA and manufacturers lobby and poll. So do anti-gun groups and most segments of the economy. What’s sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander.

      I don’t see a business spending lots of money to gear up to manufacture and to actually manufacture a large number of any item without solid belief the basic demand is there. Firearms are quite expensive. Most people aren’t going to buy one on a whim. Business responds to anticipated demand.

      There are clearly many supporters of gun regulation who support a person’s individual right to own and bear arms. But there are probably more who want to disarm the nation. I think we could have better debate and discussion over gun issues if one side admitted there is a personal right to own and bear arms and if the other side admitted that some level of regulation is permissible.

      We are on the very same page about regulating large digital companies that have too much market power and regularly refuse to follow their own stated policies. I, for one, would support antitrust actions against Google, Facebook, Apple and Amazon. By establishing his three HQs (one to be named), Jeff Bezos is expecting a breakup of Amazon.

      • TKS .. I am not alone but all seem to make it more complicated.

        “Business responds to anticipated demand. ” … And I believe demand has been stoked for 40 years by the NRA promoting the fear that all guns will be taken away. In 1977, a group of conservative libertarians, led by Harlon Carter, took over the leadership of the NRA, and began publicizing the threat to gun rights by focusing on hunters. They favored an interpretation of the Second Amendment that emphasized individual, not just militia, rights to bear arms. It’s a view that well-known conservative, former U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Warren Burger called “one of the greatest pieces of fraud—I repeat the word ‘fraud’—on the American public by special interest groups that I have ever seen in my lifetime”

        From 1987 … more fear stoking … headlines featured in the NRA’s print ads at that time:
        • “Should you shoot a rapist before he cuts your throat?”
        • “If you’re attacked on your porch, do you want your neighbors to be opposed to gun ownership or members of the NRA?”
        • “Why can’t a policeman be there when you need him? . . . If police can’t protect you, who will?”

        And more take-away’ fear after Sandy Hook, the beautiful town next to where I lived for 20 years, and where 20 children and six adults were killed, … “as President Obama introduced proposals looking to ban automatic weapons, limit magazines to 10 bullets, have universal background checks for all firearms buyers, and increase scrutiny of mental health patients,” La Pierre said, “I warned you this day was coming and now it’s here. It’s not about protecting your children. It’s not about stopping crime. It’s about banning your guns … period.” He also held a news conference in which he said that the media, movies, and video games were more to blame for the violence than guns. Sound familiar?

        In 2004 there were only about 100,000 assault rifles made by American manufacturers. Production skyrocketed after Barack Obama won the 2008 election, when domestic gunmakers manufactured almost 500,000 such weapons, and then again following the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. in 2013, the gun industry pumped out nearly two million assault-style rifles. Each time the NRA leaned in with fear of total gun bans, and I believe promoted demand.

        I agree we could have better debate and discussion over gun issues if one side admitted there is a personal right to own and bear arms and if the other side admitted that some level of regulation is permissible.

        I don’t think there are as many ‘total ban’ people as you think. I think that has been promoted by the NRA’s 40 promotional years and it is now seen as a fact, even though a complete ban would probably require a Constitutional Amendment. Difficult … the ERA still hasn’t passed. Evidently the Supreme Court has backed some gun regulation but unfortunately they included the ‘popularity’ of the weapon as part of their argument.

        I think we could solve this if we can keep it simple.

  14. How can I take ANY gun control arguments seriously when I hear semi-automatic .22s being called “assault rifles” because they are black and “scary.”

    And I don’t need the NRA to “scare” me when I see facebook threads filled with “no one is coming to take away your guns,” which is then inevitably followed five messages further down by “no one needs ______, they all should be banned.”

  15. The term “mass shooting” has become a pet peeve for me. It is a term that has become more and more abused in order to magnify the number of incidents to increase the demand for a “something needs to be done.” A “mass shooting” that involves four gang members wounded on a Friday night on street corner is not the sort of incident that is driving the fear these days. What we really fear are “spree killers”(the term seems to have gone out of ‘fashion.’) The alarming number of people who seek to make a mark on society by killing a large number of complete STRANGERS in one ‘spree.’ The ulitmate nihilistic statement.

  16. The term “mass shooting” has become a pet peeve for me. It is a term that has become more and more abused in order to magnify the number of incidents to increase the demand for a “something needs to be done.” A “mass shooting” that involves four gang members wounded on a Friday night on street corner is not the sort of incident that is driving the fear these days. What we really fear are “spree killers”(the term seems to have gone out of ‘fashion.’) The alarming number of people who seek to make a mark on society by killing a large number of complete STRANGERS in one ‘spree.’ The ultimate nihilistic statement.

  17. Yes, it is the ‘spree’ killings that create so much public fear, especially in the kids who must now practice what to do in case of a shooter in their school.

    From the statistics presented yesterday in Richmond, those events represent a small amount of the firearms killings. According to the Mercury, one presenter said “homicides due to mass shootings are relatively rare in the broader landscape of gun violence, though she noted that restrictions on magazine capacity in particular could play a role in limiting the number of fatalities in shootings such as Dayton, when a gunman was able to kill nine and injure 27 people in 30 seconds.” The presenter recommended a restriction on magazine size.

    She also said, “Homicides accounted for about a third of gun-related deaths most years. The remainder, about two thirds, were attributed to suicides: 647 in 2018.” That should lead us to evaluate our treatment of mental health as well as the gun sales issue.

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