Lawmakers Push Gun Ownership Prerequisite Bills to Next Session

A bill focused on prerequisites for a firearm purchase appeared dead for the session, but was advanced with a substitute that now updates concealed carry requirements.

Sen. Angelia Williams Graves, D-Norfolk, introduced Senate Bill 522 to require either demonstration of competence or completion of a gun safety training course within five years of purchase. She sponsored the legislation last year as a delegate but it did not advance from a Republican-led House.

The Senate passed the bill on a party-line vote, but a House Public Safety subcommittee recommended continuing the measure with a letter to the state Crime Commission to study the policy.

 Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, noted it is “an excellent policy,” but other similar bills with firearm ownership prerequisites were also continued as lawmakers examine issues of consistency and constitutionality.

Williams Graves spoke with committee members to have the bill heard again the next day. A substitute was advanced to amend the state code for concealed handgun permits. The language now mirrors a bill already passed in the House that is currently in the Senate Finance and Appropriations committee.

A person who seeks a concealed permit must demonstrate competence through an approved organization that provides firearm safety or training.

The substitute bill requires any course, class or training to include a live fire shooting exercise conducted on a range, including the expenditure of a minimum of 10 rounds of ammunition. Qualifying courses offered by the National Rifle Association were removed from the code, which now designates courses approved by the Department of Criminal Justice Services.

People experienced with use of a firearm in the workplace, such as law enforcement, security or the military, can present evidence of prior training courses.

Local school boards can choose to provide a firearm safety program for elementary school grades. The substitute clarifies that principles of firearm safety and accident prevention must be part of the curriculum, if taught.

The House budget already contains funding for the three positions needed to develop a certification and approval process for firearms safety training for the general public. SB 522 has a final vote remaining in the House.

Prerequisites for firearm ownership questioned

The original bill required a citizen to complete similar training to the required courses for a concealed carry permit, and with the same exemptions for people who use a firearm in their line of work.

Citizens can currently purchase a firearm with no prior experience or training, which makes accidents more likely to occur, Williams Graves said. Future gun owners should be trained on the cleaning, loading and storing of firearms like trained officials, she said.

Sen. Richard Stuart, R-Westmoreland, asked for statistics about accidents due to incompetence. Williams Graves could not provide statistics, but responded, “it’s not just about accidental shootings, it’s simply a matter of public safety.”

There were 2,486 firearm injuries last year that resulted in an emergency room visit, according to the Virginia Department of Health. The majority of firearm deaths are due to suicide, followed by homicide. Three people died by firearm, on average, every day between 2016-2022, according to VDH.

Two days before Williams Graves’ bill was heard in the House, a Richmond City second-grader took a loaded gun to school. Last year, a 6-year-old shot his teacher in Newport News.

Groups such as the Virginia Citizens Defense League oppose the bill and other firearm legislation with added restrictions. Many citizens believe their Second Amendment rights are being infringed upon, according to Philip Van Cleave, VCDL president.

“Right now, we’ve considered ourselves to be in a war against gun rights, against gun owners,” Van Cleave said. “The Democrats are trying to destroy a basic civil right and we’re having to fight that.”

Many rights are regulated, such as driving or voting, Williams Graves said.

This is an unwarranted, “apples and oranges” comparison, according to Van Cleave.

Any new firearm legislation must align with evidence of prior firearms rules in order to preserve a constitutional right, according to Van Cleave.

“It’s up to the government to show that the law they have on the books was something that was on the books back in 1791 or somewhere between there and 1866,” Van Cleave said.

Democratic lawmakers have resumed their efforts to regulate firearms and reduce gun violence now that they have a slim majority in both chambers. Lawmakers tackled approximately 50 pieces of firearm-related legislation this session, many duplicates.

Measures that passed both chambers so far include regulations around public carry of assault firearms, firearm transfers, child access to a firearm, school notification of safe storage practices, leaving a gun in a vehicle and conduct standards for firearm manufacturers.

The bills still face Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin, who has the option to veto. Democrats don’t have the required two-thirds majority to overturn a veto.

By Shelby Warren / Capital News Service

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