Public, advocates present arguments on gun laws to state crime commission

Published: Aug. 20, 2019 at 6:59 PM EDT
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RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - The Virginia Crime Commission is now tasked with considering two days worth of testimony on 78 proposed bills aimed at stopping gun violence.

The Republican-led General Assembly sent the bills to the commission for study after abruptly adjourning the special legislative session in July.

Day two of testimony this week included experts, members of the public, advocates on both sides of the gun debate and legislators pitching their bills.

For many, the issue is personal.

Lori Haas, mother of a student injured in the Virginia Tech shooting 12 years ago and Senior Director of Advocacy for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, is reeling from seeing so many more mass shootings since then.

“11,000 Virginians have died since the shooting at Virginia Tech that injured my daughter," Haas said. "We could be doing more, we should have done more.”

Vincent Smith works for the City of Virginia Beach and lost 12 coworkers in a mass shooting in a municipal building earlier this year.

“Had employees in the building been allowed to carry a firearm at work, the tragedy would have been lessened,” Smith said.

Many gun control advocates say they’re frustrated the General Assembly did not vote on the proposed bills during the special session.

“I’m frankly completely disgusted at how the special session went down," Leanne Fox with Moms Demanding Action in Crozet, said. “It’s legislators’ job to come back and write laws to keep people safe.”

One proposed measure gaining attention is a so-called red flag bill that would allow guns to be taken from people under emergency protective orders who are considered to be a danger to themselves or others. The measure calls for a series of hearings and mental health evaluations.

“We need to recognize when a person is at risk of committing violence, and separate him or her from their firearm," Hass said. "An extreme risk law would help in those situations.”

There is no shortage of opinions on how to curb gun violence, and Fox agreed.

“Some of the best solutions are to expand background checks and incorporate an extreme protective order law, also known as a red flag law," Fox said. "Those laws would keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.”

However, National Rifle Association spokesperson Catherine Mortensen said “The question becomes what are those persons’ rights? Did they get due process? Does an individual targeted by a red flag law, do they have the opportunity to face their accuser in court, present evidence? Those are fundamental questions that have to be addressed.”

Gun rights advocate Philip Van Cleave, President of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said eliminating “gun-free zones” is more important.

“Getting rid of gun-free zones would save a lot of lives, would have saved lives in Virginia Beach, as well as letting permit holder carry wherever they go,” Van Cleave said.

The Crime Commission will study all 78 proposed bills and send the General Assembly recommendations before it reconvenes a week after the November election.

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