RICHMOND -- A ‘red flag’ gun bill sponsored by Sen. George Barker, D-39th, to allow law enforcement to temporarily seize firearms from people found to be a danger to themselves or others passed a state Senate committee along party lines Monday morning.
Barker represents constituents in Prince William County, Fairfax County and Alexandria City.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 9-5 to report the bill out of committee, with all nine Democrats voting in favor of the measure and all five Republicans voting against. It will now go to a floor vote in the state Senate at a date that hasn’t yet been scheduled.
It’s one of several gun laws the new Democratic majorities are expected to pass during the 2020 General Assembly session that have been backed by Gov. Ralph Northam.
Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian J. Moran, speaking on behalf of Northam, said the governor strongly supports Barker’s bill and that the administration had spoken with a number of states that have passed similar laws.
“We can adopt those best practices that have been adopted by those 17 states to ensure the effective and safe implementation of this law,” Moran said at the meeting.
Red flag gun laws have been adopted by 17 states and Washington D.C. Moran also drew attention three state court cases in Connecticut, Indiana and Florida in which red flag gun laws had been challenged.
Barker, addressing the committee, said the law had been successfully defended in court.
The bill creates a procedure by which any attorney for the commonwealth or any law-enforcement officer can apply to a general district court, circuit court, or juvenile and domestic relations district court judge for an emergency substantial risk order.
Republican lawmakers Sens. Richard Stuart, R-28th, Ben Chafin, R-38th, Mark Obenshain, R-26th, Ryan McDougle, R-4th, and Tommy Norment, R-3rd, voted against Barker’s proposed ‘red flag’ law. Stuart represents part of Prince William County.
Several lawmakers expressed concern that the law would violate citizens’ due process and Second Amendment rights.
“You’re flipping due process and the Constitution on its head,” Stuart said. “This bill probably scares me more than any bill I’ve seen in the Senate of Virginia in the 12 years I’ve been here, because of the mischief that could be done with it.”
Philip Van Cleave, president of Virginia Citizens Defense League, also spoke out against the bill. VCDL has been at the center of the push to declare Virginia localities “Second Amendment sanctuaries.” Over 100 localities have passed either Second Amendment or “constitutional county” resolutions since Nov. 5, including Prince William County, which declared itself the latter in December.
“If you were a danger to your family, you could still kill your family. They’ve just arrested the guns,” Van Cleave said about Barker’s bill. “You could be disarmed for life and you’ve done nothing wrong.”
Democrats approved two additional gun bills – a watered down universal background check bill and a bill allowing localities to ban firearms in public buildings, parks and permitted events – at the same committee meeting.
The latter bill was sponsored by state Sen. Scott Surovell, D-36th, who represents part of Prince William County.
Both bills will head to the floor of the state Senate for a full vote at a later date.
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