Bill requiring background checks for gun rentals in Virginia killed by Democratic-led Senate

Capitol Connection
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In 2020. two young men visited the Green Top Shooting Range in Hanover County, Virginia, just days apart, rented fire arms and went into the range to take their lives. (Photo: File image)

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Legislation aimed at preventing suicides at shooting ranges by requiring background checks on gun rentals failed to garner enough support Thursday in the Virginia Senate, with a few Democrats agreeing with Republicans that the effort needs further review.

State Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), the lawmaker who introduced the legislation, told the chamber he was aware of a motion coming to refer it back to the Judiciary Committee but urged senators to reject that effort and approve his bill, telling them about two suicides that happened within a week of each other at a Hanover gun range last year.

“This bill came to me after two young men, within a space of five days, went to a shooting range, gun range in Hanover County, rented firearms, went into the range and took their lives,” Deeds said in a floor speech Thursday.

Deputies responded to Green Top in Hanover after receiving a report just before noon on July 13 of a shooting inside. They found a man in his late 20s dead from an apparent gunshot wound when they arrived. Just days earlier, on July 8, a man in his early 20s was found dead at the shooting range with an apparent gunshot wound.

Hanover County authorities confirmed the firearms used by two men were rented at the facility.

“The thing about these two young men in Hanover County is that neither one could purchase a firearm cause they had problems in the past,” Deeds continued. “A background check would have shown that.”

Deeds added he was aware of two other shootings in gun ranges, including one that occurred Tuesday in a Colonial Heights range. Police said a 21-year-old man was found dead at The Smoking Gun on Feb. 2 and they are not currently searching for any suspects.

The investigation remains ongoing, they were unable to say if the shooting was self-inflicted or accidental. In response, the Smoking Gun posted on Facebook that all gun rentals are temporarily suspended for people not taking a training course. 

State Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant (R-Henrico) notified Sen. Deeds of her intentions to file a substitute motion to refer it back to committee, effectively killing the bill for this session. Sen. Dunnavant said hat she is empathic towards ensuring the protection of those suffering from mental health issues, sharing that the family of one of the men Deeds referred to lives in her district and she has spoken his mother several times.

“I’m very empathic to finding a path forward that will successfully help us protect those with mental health issues that should be putting themselves or others in danger,” Dunnavant said defending her motion. “However, this bill doesn’t accomplish that goal.”

Under Deeds’ bill, gun ranges would not be mandated to conduct background checks until 2023. Deeds noted that would allow Virginia State Police enough time to establish a system, as the legislation calls on state police to conduct a state criminal history record check.

In the end, the Democrat-controlled Senate voted 21-18 to refer the bill to the Judiciary Committee.

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