Democrats halted a slew of Republican-backed gun legislation Tuesday, including bills that would allow Virginians to carry covered handguns without concealed carry permits, allow firearms in places of worship and enable state employees to bring concealed guns to work.
One day after 22,000 gun rights advocates flooded the State Capitol in support of Second Amendment rights, 11 gun bills failed to advance out of a Democratic-majority legislative subcommittee.
House Bill 162 would have allowed those injured in established gun-free zones to file a civil claim for damages. The bill states that if a locality or the commonwealth creates a gun-free zone, it also waives its sovereign immunity in relation to injuries in that zone. Sovereign immunity protects government entities and employees against certain lawsuits.
Jason Nixon addressed the panel of delegates in support of the bill while wearing a Virginia Beach Strong T-shirt. His wife, Katherine Nixon, was killed in the May mass shooting in a Virginia Beach municipal building that left 12 dead and four injured.
“If you tell my wife that she has to go into gun-free zones under city policies or state policies, and you can't protect her, and you harbor her right of protecting herself, is that fair?” Nixon said.
Nixon said his wife expressed safety concerns the night before the shooting — and contemplated bringing a gun in her purse — but decided against it to comply with the law.
“This bill probably should be called the ‘put your money where your mouth is,’” Del. John McGuire, R-56th, of Henrico, said.
“If you are in a gun-free zone, you should be able to hold the local government accountable for preventing you from doing anything in self-defense.”
During a block vote of HB 162 and HB 1382, which supported similar measures, the bills were tabled in a 6-2 vote. Del. Carrie Coyner, R-62nd, of Chesterfield, broke party lines to vote alongside Democrats.
HB 161, sponsored by McGuire, would have changed the law to eliminate the need to obtain a concealed carry permit to carry a concealed handgun.
Louisa county resident Myria Rolan supported the bill, saying she had to obtain a concealed carry permits because winter clothing often covers her firearm.
“But the reason I needed it isn't because I was going to do anything crazy. It's because I wear a coat or sweatshirt,” Rolan said. “Do you know how easy it is for current clothing to cover your firearm, and now you're committing a crime just because you are being fashionable or warm?”
Del. Wendell Walker, R-23rd, of Lynchburg, sponsored HB 596, which would repeal the law banning dangerous weapons in places of worship. It was tabled in a 5-3 vote.
Steve Birnbaum, the head of a volunteer security team at his local synagogue, said he supports the bill.
Birnbaum said it took law enforcement 10 minutes to respond during the mass attack on the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh. He said churches should have the option to protect themselves before officers arrive.
“There are some synagogues that don't even want paid security, because they don't like firearms, they don't always want off-duty officers, they don't want to pay for security, and that's their choice,” Birnbaum said. “But there are synagogues that understand that law enforcement are not coming, and that they're on their own for 10 minutes, if not longer, especially in rural parts of the state.”
One attendee said that church and state were separate, and legislators shouldn’t control whether people bring guns in churches. Current law allows armed security guards in places of worship.
HB 669, patroned by Del. Mark Cole, R-88th, who represents parts of Fauquier and Spotsylvania counties, would have allowed state employees with a valid concealed handgun permit to carry a concealed handgun to their workplace. It too was tabled in a 5-3 vote.
Other bills tabled Tuesday include :
HB 1470 would have allowed a landowner with property in multiple localities to extend the firearm ordinance of the country where the largest parcel was located to anyone hunting on site.
HB 1471 would have given property owners the ability to use HB 1470 in their legal defense.
HB 1175 would have increased the penalty for use or display of a firearm while committing certain felonies. It would have raised the mandatory minimum sentence for first offenses from three years to five years, and second and subsequent offenses from five years to 10 years.
HB 976, patroned by Del. Matthew Fariss, R-59th, of Campbell County, would permit members of Virginia State Police’s executive protection unit to carry firearms. The bill was not heard today and will be consulted by the subcommittee at a later date.