Governor Northam’s Special Session on Gun Laws: Define Reasonable

Disclaimer: I am a lifelong gun owner (so far), a retired military officer who has fired every weapon from an M1911A1 .45 ACP handgun to 66- and 90-MM recoilless rocket launchers to the main gun on an M1A1 Battle Tank and everything in between. I have a collection of sporting long guns and several semi- automatic handguns along with being licensed for concealed carry in Virginia for almost 35 years. But I have never belonged to the NRA, the GOA, or any other firearms advocacy group and I never will. Gun ownership is a Constitutional right and I don’t think that we need special advocacy groups to protect that right, anymore than we need special advocacy groups to promote fossil fuels, solar and wind energy, or veteran affairs. In my experience, such groups typically soak up contributions that are then
spent on overhead salaries and expenses and advocating for more contributions rather than the cause they purportedly support. Example: the Wounded Warrior Project.

Northam has proposed specific legislation for the special session. That is fine — but where he crosses the line is when he proposes that his bills go directly to each chamber’s floor for an up-or-down vote without any committee action. I am confident that Northam was unaware that this is an election year when he made that modest proposal. Northam’s special session wish list consists of seven “reasonable” gun control laws:

1. Universal background checks
2. Child access prevention
3. One gun a month limits
4. Banning assault weapons, including bump stocks
5. Requirement to report lost or stolen guns
6. Allowing localities to ban guns from municipal buildings
7. Red flag laws

Let’s consider each proposed law individually.

1. Universal background checks: Now who wouldn’t favor that? None of us want convicted violent felons and other disallowed persons to buy a gun from anyone without a background check. The problem is, how do you enforce it? Suppose a disallowed person is found by law enforcement to be in possession of a firearm. The offender produces a receipt for the weapon that he purchased at a gun show. Law enforcement contacts the seller and asks him if he conducted a background check before completing the sale. His response is that he is sure that he did. Does he have records of the background check? No, he is not a Federal Firearms License (FFL) dealer and doesn’t keep records or he lost them the last time he moved. The solution? A Universal Firearms Registry that records all firearms transfers and the attendant background check. Well, considering the efficacy of the NCIC and the Sex Offender Registries, that would be like combining the fairness of the IRS with the efficiency of the Postal Service. What happens when a firearm transfer and background check report was not entered or misfiled? Worse, such a database could be a gold mine for gun traffickers and terrorists. Cyber security? Tell that to OPM, Apple, and Citigroup.

2. Child Access Prevention: What kind of an idiot would have guns and ammunition in the house that a minor child could get to, esp. one who had mental illness problems? Well, the mother of Adam Lanza, for example — who paid with her life for not only having poorly secured weapons in her house but took her disturbed child to the range so that he could practice for Sandy Hook Elementary. Yet laws that can’t be enforced are as effective as no laws at all.

3. One Gun Per Month Limits: I love this one. Just how many guns per month does anyone buy? A much better and effective measure would be to require dealers to report frequent buyers to ATF as potential gun traffickers.

4. Banning Assault Rifles, Including Bump Stocks:  Despite my decades of military service, I am at a loss to provide a reasonable definition of an “assault rifle,” except to say that it is a Scary Looking Gun (SLG). A few years ago a delegate in the General Assembly, Joe Morrissey, punctuated his floor speech for an assault rifle ban by holding up an “assault rifle” that he had bought in Hanover County. It was an assault rifle, the audience was supposed to belief, because it had a pistol grip stock and a banana-shaped magazine. In reality, the weapon was a Chinese-manufactured hunting rifle that is popular with deer hunters. As for bump stocks, they were banned by a Federal law passed in 2018 and are already illegal to possess. Try to keep up, Ralph. BTW, which gun- grabbing Pelosi liberal pushed for this law? Donald Trump.

5. Requirement to report lost or stolen guns: That is not a bad idea and 11 states and DC already have such a law on the books, although there is no evidence that such a requirement would directly reduce gun violence. It would be helpful in discouraging gun trafficking. It is interesting to note that even some strict gun control states, such as California, have failed to pass such a law when it was first proposed. Go figure.

6. Allowing Localities to Ban Guns From Municipal Buildings. Probably an issue of fairness since Virginia law already bans guns from state office buildings. On the other hand, allowing local governments to arbitrarily ban guns from certain public places make it onerous to carry concealed. If you have to take off your gun and lock it up every time you visit a proscribed location, then pretty soon you reach the point where you might as well leave your gun at home —  which is exactly what the Brady Bunch types really want.

7. Red Flag Laws. Northam was doubtlessly saving the best for last in terms of Constitutional overstepping. We already have laws on the books that empower courts to declare, after due process, a person to be disallowed for reasons of mental health treatment, imposition of a restraining order, etc. Are we now going to lower that bar to encompass what is suspected that an otherwise normal person might do? Remember, prior restraint is strictly forbidden by the Constitution.

The bottom line here — and what makes none of these proposed laws reasonable — is that none of them would have prevented the Virginia Beach shootings or the vast majority of other mass shootings. Virginia needs more than your wishes and prayers, Governor Northam. But it doesn’t need your meaningless and pandering politicization of a human tragedy in an election year.