DOA: Gun safety bills die in subcommittee

Delegate Matt Fariss, R-Rustburg, represents southern Albemarle and sits on the Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee that regularly kills gun safety measures. File photo Delegate Matt Fariss, R-Rustburg, represents southern Albemarle and sits on the Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee that regularly kills gun safety measures. File photo

Andy Goddard has been going to the General Assembly since 2008, the year after his son was shot four times in the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre. In his 11th year monitoring the legislature and how it deals with mass murders and guns, not much has changed.

“It’s the same old thing,” says Goddard, who’s the legislative director for the Virginia Center for Public Safety. “The one subcommittee in the House that kills all the gun bills used to be 4-1 Republican majority.” Now, with last fall’s Democratic insurgency in the House that brought it to a 49-51 minority, the Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee that handily dispatches anything that could restrict gun ownership added another Dem and is now 5-2. “Ludicrous,” says Goddard.

House Democratic Leader David Toscano agrees and says the subcommittee makeup is “unproportional” to the nearly even split of the House.

Subcommittee No. 1 includes southern Albemarle’s delegate, Matt Fariss, a Republican from Rustburg. Fariss did not return phone calls from C-VILLE Weekly to explain why measures such as requiring family day care centers to lock up guns after a 4-year-old boy killed himself in Orange last spring or banning bump stocks—the device used in Las Vegas to slaughter 58 people and wound hundreds—failed.

“Every year we see this,” says Gay Einstein, who heads the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention. “Bump stocks—really?”

Her group started after the December 14, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre of 20 first-graders in Newtown, Connecticut. The inability to nudge Virginia legislators to support gun safety measures is depressing, says Einstein, despite increased interest in preventing mass murders. The group took a bus of 32 people down to Richmond in January to lobby.

Goddard says 113 firearms-related bills were introduced in the General Assembly this session, and his organization supported 83 of them. Of those, “81 have gone down,” says Goddard.

One of the two survivors is a bill state Senator Creigh Deeds carried that would put restrictions on gun possession on minors who were involuntarily ordered to undergo mental health treatment.

The other? A “stop gun violence” license plate. “The gun boys got really upset and threw everything at that one,” says Goddard, who wonders how gun violence can be stopped when legislators “can’t even abide the words on a license plate.”

Despite the steadfast defeat of firearms restrictions in Richmond, in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, high school slayings and the national student-led outrage, Toscano is calling upon fellow legislators to reopen the conversation. “There are three items worthy of discussion,” he says.

First, banning bump stocks. Second, banning the sale of assault weapons to people under 21. “If we could have prevented the sale of an AR-15, the Florida shootings would not have occurred,” he says. And third, a “gun prevention protective order,” which would allow a court to remove guns from someone deemed mentally ill and dangerous “like the guy in Florida,” a measure that has support in conservative and liberal camps, says Toscano.

He knows he needs help from across the aisle to get anything done as this year’s session winds down, and on February 27, he says, “I’m going to challenge Republicans to join us.”

Despite the steadfast defeat of firearms restrictions in Richmond, in the wake of the Parkland, Florida, high school slayings and the national student-led outrage, House Democratic Leader David Toscano is calling upon fellow legislators to reopen the conversation.

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