Most gun storage bills appear doomed in Virginia General Assembly

‘I just think sometimes we overthink all of this,’ GOP House leader says
A potential buyer checks out a gun which is displayed on an exhibitor’s table during the...
A potential buyer checks out a gun which is displayed on an exhibitor’s table during the Nation’s Gun Show on November 18, 2016, at Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly.(Alex Wong)
Published: Jan. 31, 2023 at 6:31 PM EST
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

As Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, pitched a Republican-led subcommittee last week on his proposed law requiring gun owners to lock up their firearms and ammunition if there are children in the home, he raised his index finger in the air and began a visual demonstration.

He pressed his fingertip to the biometric gun safe on the podium in front of him, showing the audience the safe would quickly open for him and no one else. For gun owners who have hundreds of dollars to spend on a weapon, Simon said, a secure storage device that can be bought online for $60 wouldn’t be an overly expensive proposition.

“It’s a pretty simple thing to ask people to do,” said Simon. “I will point out that we have seatbelt laws, we have bicycle helmet laws, we have life jacket laws. All designed to protect children.”

Gun-rights groups felt it wasn’t so simple.

In testimony on Simon’s bill and a similar proposal in the state Senate, Philip Van Cleave, president of the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League, raised doubts about whether there are safes big enough to hold all the ammo he and other gun owners keep on hand. He also argued some minors can be safely trained to access a firearm to help with home defense.

“One size does not fit all,” Van Cleave said last week before GOP lawmakers voted to kill Simon’s bill. “There are a lot of teenagers that have had a lot of education on guns. They know safety.”

Several bills dealing with safe gun storage were filed for the Virginia General Assembly’s 2023 session after a Newport News elementary school teacher was shot by a 6-year-old student with a gun the boy allegedly got from home. But even if the bills pass the Democratic Senate, they appear doomed to failure based on recent no votes in Republican-controlled committees in the House of Delegates.

“They don’t even want to hold irresponsible gun owners accountable,” Lori Haas, Virginia director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said Monday afternoon after the bills’ fate became clear.

Democrats have urged their colleagues to do more to address an increase in gun-related deaths among children and teenagers, arguing that, regardless of enforcement, tougher laws could raise awareness of the importance of safe gun storage. Republicans have argued adding new layers of gun control won’t work, because the state already has laws that can be used against negligent or reckless gun owners.  A breakthrough gun-control package Virginia Democrats passed in 2020 included a bill strengthening penalties for adults who “recklessly” leave a loaded firearm accessible to minors under the age of 14.

“I just think sometimes we overthink all of this and we go too far,” House Majority Leader Terry Kilgore, R-Scott, said after voting against several storage bills.

The Newport News incident made national headlines and has renewed debate over when and how gun owners should be held accountable if they fail to keep a firearm away from a child. Authorities and experts have indicated the boy is too young to be charged criminally, and charges have not been filed against the parents.

“We have a crime that has a victim and no perpetrator,” Andrew Goddard, a gun-control advocate with the Virginia Center for Public Safety, said of the classroom shooting as he testified in favor of a bill making it easier to file a civil lawsuit against a child’s parents if the child causes harm with a gun. That bill also failed Monday on a party-line vote.


NBC12 is a partner with The Virginia Mercury, an independent, nonprofit online news...
NBC12 is a partner with The Virginia Mercury, an independent, nonprofit online news organization covering state government and policy.(Virginia Mercury)