RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Congress just passed what many are calling the most significant federal gun reform in decades but at least one gun rights advocate says it won’t have a noticeable impact in Virginia.
President Joe Biden signed the bipartisan compromise amid pressure to act in the wake of several high-profile mass shootings.
“To gun owners in Virginia, this law isn’t really going to have much effect at all that you’re going to notice,” said Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave.
Lori Haas, advocacy manager for the Center for Gun Violence Solutions at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said the legislation is a good start.
“It’s a step forward and a step in the right direction. We need more laws and we need stronger laws,” Haas said.
As a result of the new law, Haas said more money will be available to localities to carry out Virginia’s existing red flag law, which passed despite significant pushback from gun rights advocates in 2020.
The state law created a civil process to take guns from those who pose an immediate danger to themselves or others. A judge has to sign off on longer-term removals.
“Jurisdictions are using the risk order but some are not. The resources and funding from the federal bill could provide jurisdictions with the funds they need to do training and education to let the public be aware of how these risk orders function,” Haas said.
Van Cleave said this approach is flawed and he would rather see the additional funding go towards mental health resources.
Van Cleave also took issue with another provision in the federal law, which prohibits dating partners convicted of misdemeanor domestic abuse from possessing a firearm. It also creates a rights restoration process five years after the completion of a sentence if there are no subsequent disqualifying crimes.
“Misdemeanors were never meant to take away rights, that’s why they’re minor crimes,” Van Cleave said. “We’re totally opposed to it but at least, if they did it, they put in a five-year sunset.”
Allison Anderman, senior counsel and director of local policy at Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, said federal law already banned firearms indefinitely for family and household members convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors.
Anderman said the new federal law goes further than Virginia’s. Still, she said state lawmakers should double down and pass a similar or stronger law to make it easier to enforce.
“Only federal law enforcement can now prosecute Virginia residents who violate this law, which can be difficult and inefficient,” Anderman said.
Congress also enhanced background checks for gun buyers under 21. Anderman said the new law will require the checking of juvenile and mental health records. She said it also gives the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) more time to investigate potentially disqualifying records if needed.
Asked if this will change anything at the state level, Virginia State Police Spokesperson Corinne Geller said they’re still awaiting guidance from the FBI on how to implement the provisions of the new law.
Geller didn’t respond when asked if VSP plans to apply for new grants intended to help states upgrade criminal and mental health records for the NICS.
Van Cleave doesn’t expect this provision will change much about Virginia’s process.
Haas said Virginia already has a robust background check system that has served as a nationwide model.
“As of several years ago, Virginia was the number one state for inputting prohibition records in the background check system. I suspect that we’re still close to number one, if not number one,” Haas said.