Guns for Teen Killers?

by Hans Bader

Virginia’s legislature may make it easier for people who killed or raped as teens to later possess or transport a gun. Ironically, this is being proposed at the same time that the legislature is restricting gun possession by law-abiding adults.

Legislation sponsored by senior Democratic legislators would raise the age for trying many juveniles as adults from 14 to 16. It would also change the law to allow certain 14- or 15-year-olds who commit “murder,” “rape,” or “kidnapping,” to later “possess or transport” a gun.

The bill, HB 274, would limit the reach of the Virginia law restricting “Possession or transportation of firearms, firearms ammunition, stun weapons, explosives or concealed weapons by convicted felons,” by crossing out the word “14” and replacing it with “16.” As revised, that law, § 18.2-308.2(A), would read: “It shall be unlawful for…(ii) any person adjudicated delinquent as a juvenile 14 16 years of age or older at the time of the offense of murder in violation of § 18.2-31 or 18.2-32, kidnapping in violation of § 18.2-47, robbery…in violation of § 18.2-58, or rape in violation of § 18.2-61….to knowingly and intentionally possess or transport any firearm.”

The bill is sponsored by freshman Del. Josh Cole, D-Fredericksburg, and is co-sponsored by senior Democratic delegates like Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, Marcus Simon, D-Falls Church, and Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, as well as two members of the state Senate. One of those legislators, Delegate Hope, heads the House of Delegates’ “Public Safety” committee. So, there could be a good chance that this bill will become law.

While seeking to loosen restrictions on violent offenders, these delegates have supported additional restrictions on gun possession by law-abiding people. That includes bills that recently passed the Public Safety Committee limiting gun purchases to one per month, and delegating to local governments the power to restrict the possession or transporting of firearms by law-abiding people. The state senate has already passed the legislation limiting gun purchases to one per month, and the full House of Delegates is expected to do so soon.

Hans Bader is an attorney living in Northern Virginia. This post was originally published in Liberty Unyielding.

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6 responses to “Guns for Teen Killers?

  1. I agree with the your main point–these offenders should not be allowed to purchase guns.

    As for the bill itself, you are focusing on one aspect of it and ignoring its main purpose. The primary purpose of the bill is to raise the age, from 14 t0 16, at which a juvenile could be tried as an adult for a crime.

    There is another bill, HB 477, that deals with this same issue, but is more narrowly drawn. That bill was endorsed by the Commonwealth’s attorneys and passed the Criminal Law Subcommitte unanimously, all of which are tantamount to being passed by the full House Courts of Justice Committee. It does not change the age of conviction which prohibits violent offender from purchasing firearms.

    Del. Cole’s HB 274 was also assigned to the Courts of Justice Committee, not the Public Safety Committee as you feared. Because the Courts subcommittee has already endorsed the narrower bill, I seriously doubt if it would be willing to go further on this issue with HB 274. It is an idealistic bill put in by a freshman delegate, who was probably not aware of all its ramifications.

    By the way, Del. Hope is a co-patron on the narrow bill, HB 477, as well.

    • Why do we want to raise the age for trying juveniles for murder, rape, and robbery? I get that adolescents do stupid impulsive things that we don’t want them to have a permanent record for. But murder and rape are different. I don’t see why a 15-year old who commits murder and rape shouldn’t be tried as an adult, so that the public can be kept safe from them even after they hit age 18 or 21.

      The chart above shows a lot of gun crimes by 10-17 year-olds. So this doesn’t seem like a purely academic question.

      It seems like the bill as a whole is a bad idea, not just the firearm provisions.

      • Under current law, juveniles 14 years of age of older, who are charged with an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult, can be tried as an adult. Such a transfer to circuit court can be ordered only after the court has conducted a transfer hearing in which the circumstance of the offense, the juvenile’s record, and other factors are considered. The exceptions to the transfer hearing are for certain specified serious offenses. The transfer would be automatic for juveniles accused of murder or aggravated malicious wounding. For those accused of other violent crimes or drug distribution, the cases can be tried as adults, if so requested by the Commonwealth’s attorney.

        Under HB 477, 14 or 15-year old defendants charged with murder or aggravated malicious wounding could still be tried as adults, but only if ordered by the court after a transfer hearing. 14 or 15-year olds charged with other violent crimes or drug distribution can be tried as adults if the Commonwealth’s attorney chooses to do, but only after the CA requests the court services unit to prepare the same report that is required for a transfer hearing.

        The fact that the Commonwealth’s Attorney Association supports this legislation (HB 477, not HB 274 that Mr. Bader is concerned about) and that Del. Rob Bell, a long-time Republican legislator known for his conservative stance on criminal justice bills voted for it in subcommittee should provide comfort to anyone concerned about it.

  2. Keep in mind, most gangs require one to commit to the gang for life. So once I get out for the crime I committed at 14 or 15, I could own a gun. Do these Democrats realize that gangs would really like this law? As a gang leader, I would have as many 14-15 year olds to take the fall for crimes as possible, giving them gang colors and honors early and making sure there is a steady supply of guns later.

    • I’d be curious to know why the Commonwealth’s Attorney Association supports the legislation if the aspect about gangs is true.

      I would have thought the folks in that association would have good direct insight to the issue.

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