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Virginia gun control advocates face GOP roadblock

Bills aimed at curbing gun violence were turned away by the newly Republican-controlled House of Delegates, leaving Democrats hoping for a better chance next year.

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) — For Democratic Virginia Delegate Kathleen Murphy, passing legislation to stop gun violence is a personal issue.

Murphy's brother, a father of five, was murdered in a robbery. 

"I know what this pain feels like," Murphy, who represents McLean, said in a phone interview. "I know what those parents feel like and what those who lost a loved one feel like." 

She is not the only legislator left feeling frustrated at the end of the 2023 legislative session, in which the Republican-controlled House of Delegates shot down all bills relating to gun safety measures

"When Republicans control the House of Delegates, no gun bills get passed," Murphy said. "No matter how important, no matter how logical the bill is, it does not matter." 

Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, a Fairfax Democrat, oversaw the passage of many notable gun control bills as former House speaker during the 2020 session. The legislation required background checks on all firearms sales and limited handgun purchases to once per month, and a so-called red flag law created a way for law enforcement to temporarily take a person's guns if they are deemed a danger to themselves or others.

Now in the minority, Filler-Corn said the focus is on defending progress made in previous sessions. 

"Right now, I'm just going to try and protect the progress we achieved during my tenure as speaker and try to move the ball forward where we can," she said in a phone interview. 

Filler-Corn has a long history of advocating for gun violence prevention. Her sister survived a mass shooting at her workplace, and in 2000 Filler-Corn helped organize the then-largest nonviolent protest on the National Mall in U.S. history with the Million Mom March

Delegate Angelia Williams Graves, a Democrat from Norfolk, said that when young people enter her office to lobby for gun control, she notices a sense of hopelessness. 

"The young people I have seen who have come into my office with story after story about the gun violence surrounding them," she said in an in-person interview, "they don't feel safe anywhere anymore." 

Williams Graves said the desperateness with which young people advocate for gun control stood out to her this session. 

"Some of the young people have had this look of hopelessness," she said. "They are not happy, playful and joyful like kids should be." 

Noah Lumbantobing, press secretary and brand strategist for March For Our Lives, said it's easy for young people to feel hopeless after years of mass shootings and gun violence with little legislation passed. 

"In a country where it's possible not just to be a victim of one instance of gun violence, but two and even more and still not see action," Lumbantobing said in a phone interview. "It's hard not to feel hopeless."

Over 1,000 Virginians died from gun violence in 2019, including 87 being under the age of 20, according to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.

Lumbantobing said there are dire consequences for another legislative session without bills to stem gun violence. 

"Bottom line, people will die," he said. "People try to masquerade and talk about safety as a political issue, and it's not, it's about our lives." 

Murphy, first elected in 2015, has worked to pass legislation every session restricting gun ownership for those convicted of domestic violence. 

"Every year, I put in a bill to take guns out of the hands of repeat violent domestic abusers," she said. "And every year, they kill it."  

In this session, Murphy introduced House Bill 2078, which would have required gun manufacturers and dealers to provide a locking device for any handgun. HB 2227 would have created a civil cause of action against a parent or guardian of a minor for injury to the person or property of another, or for wrongful death resulting from the minor's possession and use of a firearm. The latter bill is especially timely considering that in early January, an elementary school student in Newport News used his parent's handgun to shoot his teacher in the chest. 

"It's a logical bill," Murphy said of HB 2227. "It takes you back to Columbine, doesn't it? Yet they will not let it pass."

Williams Graves introduced two gun safety measures this session that both failed to make it out of the House. HB 2456 would have made it a Class 1 misdemeanor for anyone to possess or transport a firearm into a facility that provides mental health services and emergency medical care facilities.

"You really want them [medical staff] focused on working on you to save your life," Williams Graves said. "Not them being concerned about lockdowns because somebody's loose with a gun." 

Another bill, HB 2407, would have required prospective gun owners to show competence with a firearm or to complete firearms safety or training courses within the last five years. 

"If people are going to have a weapon, they can at least know how to properly handle it, store it and lock it," Williams Graves said. "That's basic competency to me." 

Filler-Corn introduced a bill that would have made it unlawful after 2025 for any dealer to sell a firearm that is not verified as a microstamping-enabled gun. The new technology helps law enforcement track down guns and solve more gun-related murders, according to Filler-Corn. 

"I look at this as a pro-law enforcement bill," she said. "Microstamping will literally revolutionize ballistic forensics moving forward." 

Murphy said she remains determined despite the bleak outcome of this year's legislative session for gun control advocates. 

"I'm determined that one of them, one of these days, will open their eyes and see that the position they are taking makes no sense," Murphy said. 

Categories: Government Law Politics Regional

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