Gun control

Published 4:37 pm Thursday, July 18, 2019

On Tuesday, July 9, legislators met in Richmond under Governor Northam’s call for a Special Session on gun control.

The Speaker and Senate Majority Leader asked the Virginia Crime Commission to conduct a review of what happened in Virginia Beach and the proposed legislative changes to Virginia’s laws concerning firearms and public safety.

I agree with this approach, and I will continue to advocate addressing mental health and criminal activity as well as our fundamental gun rights and the Second Amendment.

All bills proposed for gun restrictions were sent to the Militia Police and Public Safety Committee, a committee on which I serve. Those bills were passed by indefinitely and referred to the crime commission for review.

The Crime Commission includes legislators of both parties, as well as representatives of the administration and the Attorney General’s Office, a professional staff with access to other professionals within Legislative Services. The Crime Commission is the best place to better understand what steps Virginia might take to keep our communities safe without the distraction of partisan politics.

The full General Assembly adjourned to reconvene on Monday, Nov. 18, where we will continue these deliberate conversations. The bills filed for this Special Session must receive full and fair hearings, just like all other bills brought before the General Assembly.

We are committed to a thoughtful and deliberative response based on facts and evidence, not political talking points. Virginia took a thoughtful approach following the shooting at Virginia Tech, and following the shooting in Parkland, Florida. Our goal is to follow the example set a dozen years ago by adopting a process that will focus on sound policy.

Rather than work together to produce specific, bipartisan solutions, the governor and Virginia Democrats chose to put forward their gun control solutions before we even know what happened in Virginia Beach. The governor called for a special session to enact gun control measures within four days of the murders, before the funerals and memorials were completed and when the investigation was in its earliest stages.

The governor has already acknowledged – at Boys’ State – that his proposals would not have prevented the Virginia Beach murders. As The Roanoke Times reported, “Northam conceded that his proposals wouldn’t have necessarily prevented the Virginia Beach shooting.” Governor Northam’s gun control package is neither new nor improved.

Outright bans on multiple firearms, the failed one-gun-a-month scheme, new restrictions on private sales, and laws that would allow for warrantless seizures have all been considered before – and rejected. His package emulates laws already on the books in places like Chicago and New York – that have done nothing to curb gun crime.

The Supreme Court has made it clear: the Second Amendment protects a fundamental individual right to keep and bear arms. This right is co-equal with all the other rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights.  The right to keep and bear arms is treated the same as the right to freedom of speech, freedom of assembly and freedom of religion.

The right to self-defense is fundamental. Whether in the home or in public, Virginians use firearms to protect themselves and their families from violent crime on a regular basis. Nationwide, there are more than one million defensive gun uses per year.

In Virginia, we have a Second Amendment culture hundreds of years old that’s made up of people from all walks of life. Nearly one in three Virginians own a gun. Gun owners are among the most law-abiding people in our Commonwealth.

When the General Assembly amended the law to allow permit-holders to carry concealed in bars provided they don’t drink alcohol, opponents predicted a bloodbath. In reality, crimes in bars dropped by 5 percent.

It’s cliché, but true. A bad guy with a gun can only be stopped by a good guy with a gun. In Virginia Beach, those good guys were police officers. Earlier this year a workplace shooting just south of the state line — Sullivan County, Tennessee — was stopped by a man carrying a concealed handgun.

So called “gun free zones” serve one purpose — to disarm the law-abiding. Those who have chosen to kill will not be deterred by signs.

Virginia has seen gun violence prevention programs that work before. Project EXILE was responsible for a massive decrease in Richmond’s murder rate in the 1990s and early 2000s.

Enforcing the laws that we have — laws that keep guns out of the hands of criminals — and punishing those who commit crimes with guns have proven time and again to be key to reducing gun violence.

Painful experience has shown that laws limiting the rights of law-abiding citizens have little impact on the rates of violence in communities with such laws.

For example, Chicago has some of the toughest anti-gun laws in the nation. Illinois only enacted concealed carry when compelled by a court order. Chicago saw 52 people shot, 10 killed in just one weekend this month.

Concealed carry permit holders are among the most law-abiding people in the nation. A recent study found that permit holders commit crimes at 1/6th the rate of the general public — a better average than police officers.

Del. C. Matthew Fariss represents Buckingham in the Virginia House of Delegates. His email address is DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov.