A gun rights rally drew both supporters and opponents to the state Capitol in Virginia Monday.
Inside the Capitol, Democrats pushed through committee changes that will make it more difficult to advance looser gun laws, while Republicans cried foul.
So far, 30 bills have been filed that would allow concealed handguns to be carried in more places and make it easier to get both guns and the permits.
Gun supporters are hoping the recent change at the top will help them get more bills enacted this year. Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell, who took office on Saturday, supports gun rights. Former Gov. Tim Kaine often vetoed pro-gun bills.
“That pen is out of ink,” said Andrew Goddard, whose son Colin was shot four times in 2007 when a gunman opened fire at Virginia Tech, killing 32 students and faculty. ``We know that we're going to be going backward. It's just a case of how many of those bills are going to get through, not whether they get through.''
That may not be entirely true. Democrats in the Senate made that a little more difficult. Senate Democrats gained one seat in special elections to fill those of two departing Republican senators, so that their majority now stands at 22-18. On Monday, they adjusted the makeup of several powerful committees, including the Courts of Justice Committee that hears virtually all gun-related bills, to give themselves a 10-5 majority.
Still, at least three Democrats on that committee have supported gun rights bills in the past.
We're going to have a battle in front of us, however we've fought battles before and won them,'' said Philip Van Cleave, president of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League. “If they're going to put the odds against us, that's fine, because we're not going to walk away disenchanted. The more obstacles they put in front of us, the harder we'll fight.”
Some pro-gun bills on the table include:
- Repeals of the prohibition against buying more than one gun per month.
- Allowing those with concealed handgun permits to carry weapons into places of worship, courthouses when courts aren't in session; but while city councils or county boards are meeting, emergency shelters, in school parking lots or into schools when not in session and by faculty at colleges and universities.
- Requires guns acquired in gun buyback programs to be sold at auction to licensed gun dealers instead of destroyed.
- Allows concealed guns to be taken into bars and restaurants as long as the gun owner doesn't drink alcohol.
- Allows court clerks to grant a concealed carry permit without a judge's approval.
- Prohibits property or business owners from banning a gun owner from keeping the weapon in a locked vehicle.
- Prohibits Circuit Court clerks from releasing information on those who have concealed handgun permits.
- Allows concealed carry permit renewals through mail, removes the requirement for fingerprints and allows permits to be granted for life.
One bill takes on regulation by the federal government. The bill, sponsored by Del. Charles Carrico, declares that the federal government has no authority to regulate firearms that are made and sold in Virginia.
Gun control supporters wrote the names of those killed or injured in gun violence on hearts made from construction paper and placed them into a basket before lying on the grass outside the Capitol for three minutes to signify the time it takes to purchase a gun. As they lay, some weeping softly, about a dozen gun rights advocates, many with guns in holsters on their hips, watched nearby.
“It should not be a party issue. It should be a public safety issue,'' Lori Haas, whose daughter Emily was shot and wounded at Virginia Tech, said about gun control. ``And we should be able to count on our legislators to vote on laws that protect the public.''