RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - Democratic lawmakers voted Friday to ban guns at both the Capitol and legislative office buildings leaving many Republicans with proof that Democrats are serious about taking on guns.
The policy voted on by the Joint Rules Committee will go into effect at midnight Friday.
The new rules state the general public and legislators will not be allowed to carry guns inside the Capitol buildings or in legislative offices.
“Firearms are currently prohibited in all executive office buildings—for the safety of all who work in and visit the Capitol, we're glad the legislature has followed suit,” said the Governor’s Office.
However, Republicans are frustrated because the whole legislature wasn’t allowed to vote on this matter.
“You would think that the elected representative of the people would be the ones who pass this policy,” said House Minority Leader Del. Todd Gilbert (R- Rockingham). “Unfortunately, the vast majority of Senators and Delegates will not even have to cast a vote on this issue because the Joint Rules Committee – which is just a handful of people – has passed this rule.”
Several Republicans have been outspoken about carrying firearms with them inside the Capitol building and their offices - but come midnight that won’t be allowed.
"This isn't Republican versus Democrat, this is American versus Un-American," said Senator Amanda Chase (R-Chesterfield).
Chase said the decision to ban guns from the Capitol building and lawmakers' offices could create safety issues.
"We receive threats and there are many of us who choose to carry so we can protect ourselves as we walk to and from our parking lots as well," she added.
The Chesterfield Senator also brought up concerns of citizens leaving their firearms in vehicles which she believes could potentially increase crime.
“It provides an opportunity for criminals to steal law-abiding citizens’ guns out of cars that are parked on the streets,” she said.
A spokesperson for the Richmond Police Department said officers encourage gun owners to take preventative measures; use a lockbox for the firearm and store it in the trunk of the vehicle.
However, Democrats said public safety is why they wanted to ban firearms from these buildings in the first place. Some Democrats suggested the new ban had been recommended by Capitol Police, but a Police spokesperson said that’s inaccurate.
“To clear up any misconceptions, Colonel Pike did not promote or recommend any policy changes to the Joint Rules Committee or any of their members,” Capitol Police said. “He was asked for his input about how a rule under consideration by the committee could be enforced by the Division of Capitol Police, and he offered his assessment. Colonel Pike neither writes nor lobbies for General Assembly rules or legislation. He enforces them."
"This was something House and Senate leadership, along with the Governor's Office I'm quite certain, collaborated to make happen and use the Capitol Police as scapegoats," Gilbert said.
Gilbert called the decision “hasty” saying Republicans weren't made aware of this vote until a few hours before it happened.
"The policy was laid on our desk just minutes before we voted on it,” he said. “That is not a good way to govern and doesn't speak well of transparency."
But in supporting the gun ban, House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn told the Washington Post, “Our objective here is keeping everyone safe,” adding the goal is to ensure there are not weapons throughout these buildings.
"I think it's a sign of what's to come for gun owners," Gilbert said.
The policy does not apply to the grounds of the Capitol, but that doesn’t mean it could not change.
“The issue of the open space that constitutes Capitol Square is more complicated from a legal perspective,” the Governor’s Office said. “That being said, the Governor is reviewing options in coordination with state and local law enforcement and in light of incoming intelligence. His top priority is keeping Virginians safe.”
The decision comes as several rallies are set to bring crowds of pro-gun and gun-control advocates throughout the month of January.
Several cities, towns, and counties across Virginia have also established “2nd Amendment Sanctuaries” vowing to oppose any new “unconstitutional restrictions” on guns.
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