A Democratic-led Virginia Senate panel voted Monday to advance a series of gun control bills, including legislation aimed at addressing recent shootings on the campus of the University of Virginia and a Newport News elementary school.
In an hour-long hearing, the Senate Judiciary Committee approved measures that would tighten Virginia’s gun storage regulations and ban most guns on public college campuses.
“Make no mistake, these bills we’re introducing today will save lives and hopefully provide a layer of comfort or reassurance to those who are acutely aware of the gun problem we have in our society,” said Democratic Senator Creigh Deeds. , a co-chair of the committee, in a statement.
The amended bill by Jennifer Boysko, a Democratic senator, would require anyone who owns a gun in a residence with a child to keep both the firearm and ammunition in a locked container. Those found to be in violation would be subject to a class four misdemeanor, punishable by a fine of not more than $250.
Boysko, who represents parts of Fairfax and Loudoun counties, called the bill a “common sense measure to save lives.”
The official also noted that she had consulted with Republican lawmakers and made changes to what she initially presented in hopes of finding bipartisan support.
A variety of advocates testified in favor of the measure, including gun control organizations and a representative from Roanoke Public Schools.
Opponents argued that the measure would infringe on parents’ ability to make the decision about when a child is responsible enough to access a gun and could impede families’ right to self-defense within their own home, citing cases in where children with firearms have deterred home invasions.
However, the measures face uncertain prospects in the GOP-controlled House, where leaders have said they will tackle mass shootings and gun violence this year by improving the mental health care system, increasing funding for enforcement law and holding criminals accountable.
“Everyone in this room cares about children and safety. And we know that weapons present a very serious problem. Just look at last week, a high school student in Henrico County brought a firearm to his school, and the week before, we all know about the 6-year-old boy who brought a gun and shot his teacher,” he said. Boysko, referring to the Newport News shooting, which police say occurred when Abigail Zwerner was teaching her first-grade class at Richneck Elementary.
In the Newport News shooting case, an attorney for the boy’s family told The Associated Press last week that he understood the gun was in the mother’s closet on a top shelf more than six feet high with a Trigger lock that requires a key. Attorney James S. Ellenson said the family doesn’t know how the boy could have gotten access to the gun.
For his part, DJ Spiker, a lobbyist for the National Rifle Association, said the language in the piece of legislation doesn’t “pass” because there are workarounds like YouTube videos that could help kids figure out how to access seemingly safe guns.
“There is no such thing as inaccessible to a minor,” he opined.
Boysko’s bill advanced with a 9-6 vote along the party line. The measure now heads to the Senate finance committee, which reviews measures that may have budgetary impacts. If it passes the panel’s sieve, then it would go to the full Senate.
Present Similar Measure For Universities
The judiciary committee also introduced a bill from Deeds, whose district includes Charlottesville, that would ban firearms in public college and university buildings, with the exception of firearms used for a licensed activity such as ROTC.
Most institutions, such as the University of Virginia (UVA), already ban weapons on campus through their own regulatory processes, Deeds said, but his move would give the bans the “force of law.” He noted that authorities who searched the UVA shooting suspect’s campus home found weapons there in addition to what was recovered at the scene of the shooting and argued that his bill would improve public safety.
UVA Police Chief Timothy Longo Sr. testified in support of the measure. He said the current bans are enforced through policy violations, which are dealt with by university administrators.
“By making this a criminal law prohibition, you open up the full range of investigative tools and constitutional protections that are normally triggered in the criminal investigative process,” Longo noted.
Gun control groups rallied with Longo in backing the bill, while gun rights groups opposed it, saying universities should choose for themselves and students with concealed-carry licenses should be exempt.
“This takes away discretion from universities, and there may be cases where they want to allow firearms on campus and in separate rooms,” said Patricia Webb, a member of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
Deeds’ bill passed 10-5, garnering a Republican vote from Senate Republican leader Tommy Norment.
Macaulay Porter, a spokeswoman for Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, did not directly address whether the governor opposes the measures, but said in a statement: “Virginia has some of the strictest gun laws in the United States.”
The spokeswoman noted that the governor supports various Republican-sponsored efforts to toughen penalties for firearms offenses and emphasized his budget effort to increase funding for mental health services.
The judiciary committee also introduced a number of other bills, including measures that would ban the carrying of certain semi-automatic weapons in public areas and restrict the purchase or sale of “assault firearms” made after July 1, 2023.
The panel rejected a bill by Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain that would have limited a 2020 law that would allow localities some ability to create gun-free zones. Obenshain argued that the law is in direct conflict with a US Supreme Court ruling last year.
This article is originally published on telemundowashingtondc.com