RICHMOND—Virginia Governor Ralph Northam acted today on seven pieces of gun violence prevention legislation patroned by House Democrats. The Governor signed five bills into law and recommended amendments to two others, which will be voted on during the reconvened session which begins on April 22.
The bills signed today address mandating universal background checks for sales of firearms, requirements to report lost and stolen firearms, preventing child access to firearms, establishing substantial risk protective orders, and restoring a limit on the number of gun purchases a person may make per month. Governor Northam added amendments to House bills which grant localities authority to determine how firearms may be regulated in their public spaces and at permitted events, and prohibit persons subject to protective orders from possessing firearms. All seven bills passed the House of Delegates on January 30.
Last November, a blue wave swept Democrats into the majority in the House of Delegates for the first time in 20 years. Gun violence prevention was a core campaign promise for Democrats statewide, proving to be a key issue with the voters. A Christopher Newport University poll summary reported that Virginia voters are “firmly in support” of gun safety measures, with 86 percent of Virginia voters favoring universal background checks, and 73 percent behind temporary protective orders removing guns if the legal owner is determined by a judicial officer to pose a threat of harm to self or others — a measure nicknamed a “red flag” law.
In response to the Governor’s announcement today, House Democratic Leadership and the bill patrons offered the following statements:
“In November, Virginians called out loud and clear for meaningful legislation to address gun violence in the Commonwealth. They demanded action and we delivered,” said Speaker of the House Eileen Filler-Corn. “I am grateful to the Governor for his leadership and for signing these bills that will save lives.”
“Democrats ran last fall on the promise that we would create common-sense gun legislation to make our beloved Commonwealth safer,” said House Majority Leader Charniele Herring. “We delivered on that promise this legislative session and I am glad to see these bills be signed into law.”
“House Democrats made gun violence prevention a top priority during the historic 2020 legislation session,” said House Democratic Caucus Chairman Rip Sullivan, who carried HB 674 establishing substantial risk protective orders. “Every death caused by gun violence is a tragedy – what is also heartbreaking is that many of these deaths are preventable. HB 674 will give Virginia law enforcement a new tool to save lives before a single shot is fired. I am happy to see that after years of hard work on this important bill, it is finally law in the Commonwealth.”
“Thanks to the Governor for signing these important bills, many of which we have been working on for decades. Virginians will be safer as a result,” said Delegate Kenneth Plum, patron of HB 2 which establishes universal background checks.
“Virginia voters elected us to pass comprehensive gun legislation, and I am proud of what we have accomplished to ensure the safety of all Virginians,” said Delegate Jeffrey Bourne, the patron of HB 9. “Among the bills passed this legislative session was House Bill 9, which requires that firearm owners must report any lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours of realization. The bill also provides a person immunity from criminal liability for acts that occurred from the loss of the firearm if they report it in good faith. This legislation is a key step to ensuring firearms safety in Virginia and I am grateful to the work of my colleagues and the Governor’s administration for its passage.”
“After working alongside law enforcement for more than twenty years, it is clear to me that any training worth its salt demands that gun owners be responsible with their weapon,” said Delegate C.E. Cliff Hayes, the sponsor of HB 1083. “House Bill 1083 will prevent gun owners from recklessly leaving their weapon in the presence of minors.”
“Our gun violence problems manifest themselves differently across the Commonwealth,” said Delegate Cia Price who carried HB 421. “It is important that we give localities the opportunity to keep their residents safe with gun violence prevention measures that will work for their specific needs. HB 421 with its amendment will do just that.”
“Anyone who is subject to a permanent protective order should not have a gun. Period,” said Delegate Mike Mullin, who sponsored HB 1004, expanding protective orders. “If you pose such a danger to someone that a permanent protective order is necessary, then you shouldn’t be armed.”
Summaries of the gun safety legislation which the Governor signed into law:
- HB 2 enforces universal background checks on gun sales, eliminating existing loopholes. Background checks exist in 20 states, lowering homicide and suicide rates. 91 percent of Virginians support universal background checks. Delegate Kenneth Plum introduced HB 2.
- HB 9 requires gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours to law enforcement and penalizes those who fail to do so with a $250 fine. This bill intends to alert law enforcement promptly, to assist with efforts to find a stolen firearm and keep it from entering the criminal market. Too many guns flow out of Virginia into other states and on to their streets, disproportionately affecting communities of color in urban settings. Delegate Jeffrey Bourne is the patron of this bill.
- HB 674 grants judicial officers the authority to issue an emergency Substantial Risk Protective Order, prohibiting a person deemed a risk to themselves or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm for the duration of the order. These temporary orders would expire after 14 days (though a judge, after a hearing, may then enter a longer-term protective order if one is necessary), allowing the individual time to seek the mental health help they need. Democratic Caucus Chair Rip Sullivan served as the patron of this bill.
- HB 812 reinstates the one-gun-per-month limit on the number of guns an individual may purchase, unless they are a licensed firearms dealer. This law would help law enforcement decrease the number of handguns being redirected to the unregulated market. This bill was introduced by Delegate Jeion Ward.
- HB 1083: Recklessly leaving loaded, unsecured firearms around minors under the age of 18 where individuals are at risk of death or injury would be classified as a Class 1 misdemeanor. Preventing young people from accessing firearms protects not only that child or family, but the entire community. Delegate Cliff Hayes introduced this legislation.
Summaries of the bills to which the Governor recommended amendments, which will be considered during the reconvened session:
- HB 421 allows localities the authority to regulate the possession, carrying, storage or transport of firearms, ammunition, components, or any combination of those things. It would also authorize localities that choose to create firearm-buyback programs to destroy any surrendered firearms. This legislation was carried by Delegate Cia Price. The Governor’s Office added an amendment clarifying exemptions in the bill for institutions of higher education.
- HB 1004 makes it a Class 6 felony for someone subject to a protective order to knowingly possess a firearm. The law would give 24 hours for a person covered by a protective order to sell or transfer their gun, and requires the subject to certify that they do not, or no longer, possess firearms within 48 hours. Virginia currently does not prevent persons convicted of misdemeanor domestic-violence offenses from purchasing or possessing firearms. When an abuser has access to firearms, the risk of intimate partner homicide increases by 400 percent. Delegate Mike Mullin was the patron of HB 1004. At the request of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, Governor Northam is adding an amendment ensuring that judges can exercise contempt power for failure to comply with the certification requirement.