By Nick Versaw
Capital News Service
RICHMOND – The Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill Wednesday to allow members of the military to obtain concealed handgun permits at age 18.
HB 1582, introduced by Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Marion, passed by a vote of 78-19. It will now go to the Senate for consideration.
The bill would allow active-duty military personnel and those with an honorable discharge between the ages of 18 and 20 to receive concealed handgun permits, provided they have completed basic training. The current minimum age for a concealed handgun permit is 21.
Under federal law, it is illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase a handgun from a licensed firearm dealer. However, Virginians between 18 and 20 can legally buy a handgun in a private sale or receive one as a gift.
Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, cited that reason in opposing the bill.
"We don't think it's smart to let 18- and 19- and 20-year-olds who can't legally purchase a firearm from carrying concealed," he said when the bill was debated Tuesday.
Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, disagreed.
"I see no harm at all in trusting young men and women who were ready to give their lives for our freedom" to have a concealed handgun permit, he said.
Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, echoed Lingamfelter.
"We don't seem to have any problem putting a gun in their hands when they're going to go overseas to get shot at," he said. "So this whole idea that we can't trust them when they come back to exercise the very constitutional amendment they went overseas to defend seems a little bit ridiculous to me."
Campbell said the bill also would increase concealed handgun permit reciprocity with other states.
Currently, Virginia permits are recognized throughout the Southeast except in Georgia. Campbell said his bill would change that by "removing the sole impediment to recognition of Virginia concealed carry permit holders by the state of Georgia," thereby granting permit holders full passage throughout the southern I-95 corridor.
"As a practical matter, this is a good bill for those of us who like to travel out of state on the East Coast," Lingamfelter said.
Campbell said the bill is another step toward his party's goal of concealed handgun permit reciprocity across all 50 states. Currently, Virginia permits are recognized in 32 states.
Simon said he fears that in expanding reciprocity, Virginia may be headed down a slippery slope.
"We're going to have to lower our standards in state after state after state to make sure that our laws are just as generous to concealed carry permit holders and that we have the lowest standards of any state in the country," Simon said. "It is the first step in having us liberalize our concealed carry permits to go to the lowest common denominator."
Permit reciprocity has been a hot-button issue among Virginia officials. In December 2015, Attorney General Mark Herring revoked Virginia's permit reciprocity agreements with 25 states.
However, during its 2016 session, the General Assembly passed legislation reversing Herring's decision and restoring all previous reciprocity agreements.
With Donald Trump's election as president, the issue of permit reciprocity has risen to prominence at the federal level. This month, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., introduced the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 in Congress.
Hudson's proposal would force all 50 states to recognize permits from all other states. The bill is awaiting hearing in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.