By Hyung Jun Lee
Capital News Service
The Virginia Senate rejected the governor’s amendments to a bill that restricts the gun rights of anyone convicted for assault and battery of a family member.
Under House Bill 1992, introduced by Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-Fairfax, anyone convicted of assault and battery of a family or household member would be prohibited from owning, purchasing or transporting firearms for a period of three years.
Gov. Ralph Northam proposed increasing the probation period from three years to five years. The governor also wanted to expand the bill to include individuals who were living together or who had cohabitated within 12 months.
The individual’s Second Amendment rights automatically will be restored after the probationary period, unless they receive another disqualifying conviction. Anyone who fails to comply with this bill would also be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor.
This may include jail time for up to 12 months, a fine of up to $2,500, or both.
“We know that domestic abusers should not own or purchase guns because when they’ve got one, they use one,” Murphy said when introducing the bill.
Senate Bill 1382, introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, established similar parameters but a lesser punishment for failure to comply. The Senate rejected the bill in a 22-16 vote.
The General Assembly met last week to review the governor’s proposed changes.
Lawmakers in the House passed the amendment along party lines, but it failed in the Senate. Democrats joined Republicans to vote against the changes.
Opponents said the measure is too restrictive for a misdemeanor charge.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said the VCDL historically would not have supported this legislation in its original form. The VCDL is a group created to protect the Second Amendment rights of Virginians.
The original bill was amended in the Senate to include rights restoration unless there was a disqualifying conviction, a protective order that would restrict the right to carry a firearm, or another legal prohibition. VCDL supported this amendment.
“Right now, if you lose your gun rights due to a misdemeanor domestic violence in Virginia, you lose them forever,” Van Cleave said.
David Adams, legislative director for the Virginia Shooting Sports Association, shared some of the sentiments made by Van Cleave. The VSSA is an association that promotes shooting sports and defends firearm ownership. However, Adams opposed the bill because it would take away someone’s constitutional right due to a misdemeanor charge.
“Everyone will say ‘well, but it’s domestic violence related,’” Adams said. “But we don’t take away basic constitutional rights for misdemeanors for any other type of misdemeanor crime.”
Adams also said that while a gun owner’s rights would be automatically restored after three years at the state level, those rights may not be restored federally.
Legislators in support of Northam’s amendment said last week that there are a number of couples who cohabitate but are not married.
“Domestic violence does take place in those situations,” Favola said. “A third of our homicides are really the result of domestic violence.”
Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax said he did not expect the amendment to come back to lawmakers, or he never would have voted for the original bill.
“This bill expands the definition in a way that we did not intend,” Petersen said.
Petersen explained that by including cohabitants, there are convoluted situations which could unfairly cause someone to lose their gun rights.
“You could have a roommate, you could be living with your sister, you could be living with a couple people in the same house that are unrelated,” Petersen said. “If there is a child there, which is a child of either one of them, and they get into an altercation or shoving match, police are called, now somebody loses their gun rights for three years.”
Lori Haas, senior director of advocacy at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, spoke in support of the bill during its initial committee reading. She said that someone with a past history of violence is likely to be a repeat offender.
“We know that a history of violence is the single biggest predictor of future violence,” Haas said. “Oftentimes, it’s the second or third charge before the conviction sticks.”
Guns are used to intimidate, control and harass victims, Haas said.
“There are a number of situations where victims suffer consequences from an abuser owning and possessing a firearm,” Haas said. “The most serious consequence of which is death.”
Jonathan Yglesias, policy director at Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, also spoke in favor of the bill. He said the bill is a common-sense measure that will protect individuals as well as the community.
“We know that offenders of sexual and domestic violence account for 54% of all mass shooting events in the U.S.,” Yglesias said. “These policies aren’t just an issue of individual and family safety, but they’re issues of community and public safety as well.”
The governor has 30 days to act on the bill, or it will become law without his signature.
(Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.)