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First look: Virginia legislature to debate gun bills from the right and left

Sign on Virginia's capitol square notify visitors of the prohibition on firearms.
Mallory Noe-Payne
Radio IQ
Sign on Virginia's capitol square notify visitors of the prohibition on firearms.

The 2024 Virginia General Assembly starts in just under a month, and legislators are already submitting bills to expand and limit Virginians' access to firearms.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin said in the past he is a gun owner, but famously avoided firearm issues on the campaign trail. That led to no endorsement from the NRA.

And in the wake of mass shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, the governor said he and his wife had lost sleep over the events, and he urged bipartisan solutions.

“The reality is there's going to be a lot of politics around this from both ends,” Youngkin said, according to local reports at the time. “We need to get to work right now on these things that we have already agreed on.”

But he also promised he wouldn’t sign a bill “imposing limitations on our Second Amendment.” Instead, he offered to roll back limits added by Democrats when they had a trifecta of state control several years ago if he won back the legislature.

But Democrats robbed him and his GOP allies of that chance this past fall and now a handful of elected officials are looking to test where he’ll stand on firearm reforms.

Among headline making efforts is a ban on assault weapons and large capacity magazines. Both a House and Senate version of the efforts have been submitted with a large amount of support from Democrats.

And Tuesday, Henrico area elected officials Senator-elect Schuyler VanValkenburg and Delegate Rodney Willett introduced matching bills which aim to create liability for gun owners when a minor uses their firearm to commit a crime, hurt themselves or others, or bring a firearm to school.

“That’s what we’re trying to get at, to make sure there’s a direct link in the law code between negligence and irresponsible gun ownership,” Vanvalkenburg said.

The effort was inspired by the murder of Lucia Bremer, a 13-year-old Henrico middle school student who was shot and killed by another student behind Godwin High School in March 2021.

“Since our daughter’s murder, we have come to learn that minors in Virginia—and around our country, for that matter—are gaining access to firearms belonging to their parents and guardians with alarming frequency,” added Jonathan and Meredith Bremer in their first public comments on the shooting and efforts to address how it happened.

Another reform comes from Richmond-area Delegate-elect Mike Jones. Jones said he owns firearms, and he doesn’t want to see ownership impacted, but he wants those who mishandle their guns to face consequences. Among his efforts is a bill that would require locking mechanisms for firearms when they’re sold from a manufacturer, but also in private local sales.

He said the recent self-inflictedshooting death of a toddler in Hampton further stresses the importance of such reforms.

“How does a 6-year-old, I mean, my god. How does a two year old get access to a gun?” Jones told Radio IQ.

He also has a bill which would put state law in line with federal law on auto sear devices, also called switchers, which he said allows guns to be fired at a pace similar to automatic weapons.

“This is one more tool for us to come in alignment with the federal government and send a clear message that these are illegal,” he said. “Something that’s supposed to be manual, you shouldn’t be able to modify it to shoot 5-6 bullets at a time.”

On the right side of the issue, Delegate-elect Tom Garrett has proposed legislation that would allow those with a concealed carry permit to bring their firearms on state property. Garrett’s office did not return requests for comment on the measure.

Democrats outlawed guns on most state property in 2021.

In an emailed statement, Youngkin said he’d review any legislation when it comes to his desk.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Brad Kutner is Radio IQ's reporter in Richmond.