RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- At least five new gun control laws take effect in Virginia on July 1.
The new slate of policy changes comes after Virginia’s Democratic majority passed sweeping reforms in 2020, including a red flag law, a “one handgun per month” policy and expanded background checks.
In the 2021 session, the General Assembly went even further, though the changes are generally more technical.
“In the last year and a half, Democrats have shown how powerful the majority can be,” House Democratic Majority Leader Charniele Herring said in a statement. “These measures are about common-sense gun safety, to keep guns out of the hands of criminals and away from at-risk individuals with the intent to harm either themselves or others.”
Starting July 1, most people won’t be allowed to bring a gun or any other weapon to Capitol Square in downtown Richmond. Any firearms or explosives carried in violation of this law are subject to seizure and forfeiture.
According to Virginia Capitol Police Spokesperson Joe Macenka, the ban also covers the four streets that surround the perimeter of the square, including sections of Bank, 9th, Broad and Governor St. Generally, he said people are at risk of violations if they are travelling on foot with a firearm on those streets but not if it’s responsibly stored in a vehicle.
Those who break the new law risk being charged with a Class One Misdemeanor, which carries a maximum punishment of one year behind bars and a $2,500 fine.
“What we will try to do certainly from the outset is educate,” Macenka said. “If you’re not sure, I would say don’t bring it unless you want to be a test case.”
While an executive order from former Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe started the process of banning concealed carry in buildings where state agencies operate, Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria) said this bill codifies and expands that effort. Specifically, he said it covers most of the more than 13,000 spaces currently owned or leased by the state government.
Macenka said this is the most restrictive firearms policy that has ever been adopted at the State Capitol, at least as far as he can remember.
Democrats also led a push to ban firearms within 40 feet of polling places with some exceptions. Levine said a majority already did this by nature of being located at schools but the new law will ensure outliers are covered.
Another reform clarifies that school boards can generally ban guns in buildings that they own. This comes after a 2020 policy change that gave local governments the option to adopt stricter gun control policies in various places.
One of the most contentious gun safety debates of the 2021 session was over the scope of a bill to restrict firearm access for certain domestic abusers.
The new law sponsored by Del. Kathleen Murphy (D-Fairfax) prohibits a person convicted of misdemeanor assault and battery of a family or household member from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm for three years following their conviction.
However, after getting push back from some Senate Democrats, Murphy said the bill was limited to domestic offenses against romantic partners, effectively excluding violence targetting children, siblings or roommates.
“I cannot understand how someone believes it is more important to have the right to own a gun than to be safe from a brutal abuser,” Murphy said when asked about the criticism.
Karen Ballengee, the owner of Southern Gun World in Chesterfield, said this ban was already in place under federal law so it won’t meaningfully change how they operate day-to-day.
However, Ballengee said a new question will be added to the “Virginia Firearms Transaction Record” form that closely mirrors the federal version. She said the main difference come July 1 will be that, if a person is caught lying, law enforcement in Virginia will have the authority to enforce the rule.
Ballengee said a new background check law will also have a minimal impact on her store. She explained that most background checks are completed instantaneously through the Virginia State Police but, in cases where a person is not immediately cleared, this bill will expand the period that a dealer has to wait to proceed with a sale from three to five days.
“I don’t know any gun stores that will go ahead and sell the gun without the background check going through anyway,” Ballengee said.
While the reforms taking effect July 1 don’t concern her as much as last year’s changes, Ballengee is still generally opposed to the approach Democrats are taking on guns.
“Taking away from law-abiding citizens is not the way to go. It has never been the way to go,” she said.