2020 CHANGES IN VIRGINIA LAW – FIRE ARMS
On the heels of a gun rights rally in Richmond in January, the Virginia General Assembly passed 12 bills with firearm regulation provisions. Governor Northam has been advancing an agenda of gun safety regulation since he took office and introduced this group of bills as the “Governor’s Package” for the 2020 Legislative session. Most of the new bills only amended existing laws and while the regulations are new to Virginia, none of the regulations are new in the United States.
There are three major categories of regulations: (1) Firearms and mental health/protective orders; (2) Firearms restrictions based on classification; and (3) Firearm sales. Here are a few of the major changes and what you need to know about them.
Senate Bill 670, introduced by Senator Montgomery Mason deals with a criminal defendant who has been deemed to be “unrestorably incompetent.”
- Prohibits the possession of a firearm by a person deemed by the court to be unrestorably incompetent to stand trial.
- This bill amended the existing Virginia Code §18.2-308.1:3 law prohibiting some persons subject to involuntary commitment, or mandated to receive outpatient treatment from purchasing, possessing, or transporting firearms. In all these cases the person’s firearm rights can be restored upon petition.
- Under the new law, in cases where a defendant is likely to remain incompetent for the foreseeable future due to an ongoing and irreversible medical condition, the court can find the defendant unrestorably incompetent to stand trial.
- Procedurally, the evaluator designated to assess a defendant’s competency to stand trial can include in his or her report a recommendation that the court find the defendant unrestorably incompetent to stand trial provided the evaluator provides prior medical or educational records in addition to the evaluation to support such a diagnosis. This provision was an amendment to current Virginia Code §19.2-169.1 on determining competency to stand trial.
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Senate Bill 240, introduce by Senator George Barker is commonly referred to as a “Red Flag” law.
- New Virginia Code §19.2-152.13-.14 creates a procedure by which a Commonwealth Attorney or law enforcement officer can apply to the court for an Emergency Substantial Risk Order.
- Upon a finding that there is probable cause to believe that a person poses a substantial risk of personal injury to himself or others in the near future by such person’s possession or acquisition of firearm the court can issue an Emergency Substantial Risk Order, which automatically expires after 14 days.
- New Code §18.2-308.1:6 makes it unlawful for a person subject to such an order to purchase, possess, or transport a firearm for the duration of the order and requires them to surrender any concealed carry permit to the court entering the order. Violation of this Code is a Class 1 misdemeanor.
- The order informs the person of the limits and penalties of Code §18.2-308.1:6 and upon service the subject of the order is given the opportunity to voluntarily relinquish any firearm in their possession; this order can extend for no longer than 180 days in total.
- In determining probable cause, the judge or magistrate shall consider any relevant evidence including any recent acts of violence, threat, or force. Further, no petition shall be filed unless an independent investigation conducted by law enforcement determines that grounds for the petition exist.
- The Virginia State Police will maintain a computerized Substantial Risk Order Registry.
- The bill also amends current Virginia Code §18.2-308.2:2 requiring background checks prior to purchasing a handgun to include whether the person is subject to an emergency substantial risk order or substantial risk order.
- Unlike many other states these are not petitions from relatives or friends, only Commonwealth Attorneys and law enforcement officers can submit petitions for the orders.
- Procedures for acquiring the orders are based on existing procedures for other protective orders.
- 19 states and the District of Columbia have enacted similar laws.
Senate Bill 479, introduced by Senator Janet Howell deals with the possession of firearms by individuals who are subject to a permanent protective order.
- This bill amended current Virginia Code §18.2-308.1:4 to prohibit any person subject to a protective order from knowingly possessing a firearm while the order is in effect.
- The amendment includes the requirement to either surrender any firearm currently in their possession to a law enforcement agency or to sell it within 24 hours of being served with the order; and within 48 hours of being served certify in writing that they do not possess any firearms or that they have surrendered and/or sold any firearms with the court that issued the order.
- This bill is substantially similar to an existing federal law commonly called the “Lautenberg Amendment.”
- 29 other states have similar laws.
- 30 states also prohibit the purchase or possession of firearms or ammunition by at least some people convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence offenses.
- Domestic violence statistics:
- an abuser’s access to a firearm makes it five times more likely that their victim will be killed;
- domestic assaults involving a gun are 12 times more likely to result in death than those involving other weapons or bodily force.
Senate Bill 64 Introduced by Senator Louise Lucas deals with defining and criminalizing “paramilitary activity.”
- This bill amended current Virginia Code §18.2-433.2 which defined paramilitary activity as teaching or demonstrating, or assembling with the purpose of teaching or demonstrating, the use, application, or making of firearms, explosives etc. knowing or intending that such training will be used in the furtherance of civil disorder.
- The amendment adds the following to the definition of “paramilitary activity”: brandishing a firearm or any air-operated or gas-operated weapon or any object similar in appearance in such a manner as to reasonably induce fear in the mind of another while assembled with one or more persons for the purpose of, and with the intent to, intimidate any person or group of person.
Senate Bill 14 Introduced by Senator Richard Saslaw deals with a gun modification called a “trigger activator.”
- New Virginia Code §18.2-308.5:1 prohibits the manufacture, importation, sale, possession, etc. of a trigger activator which is defined in the bill as a device designed to allow a semi-automatic firearm to shoot more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger by harnessing the recoil energy of any semi-automatic firearm to which it is affixed so that the trigger resets and continues firing without additional physical manipulation of the trigger by the shooter.
- A “bump stock” meets this definition and was the accessory used by the shooter in the 2017 Las Vegas concert shooting, which was the deadliest mass shooting in US history.
- This definition would also include pull and release triggers, which modify a gun’s trigger so that both the backward motion of the trigger and the forward motion of the trigger fire a bullet
- There is a Federal ban on bump stocks.
Senate Bill 69 introduced by Senator Mamie Locke, deals with limitations on handgun purchases by non-firearm retailers.
- This bill amends current Virginia Code §18.2-308.2:2 relating to the purchase of handguns and prohibits a person (who is not a licensed firearm retailer) from purchasing more than one handgun in a 30-day period.
- However, this limitation does not apply to:
- Certified persons with enhanced background checks from State Police;
- Law enforcement officers;
- Correctional facilities;
- Licensed private security companies;
- Persons who hold a valid Virginia concealed handgun permit;
- Persons whose handgun has been stolen or irretrievably lost or who are trading in a handgun.