Virginia Senate passes 'red flag' law despite fierce opposition

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Published: Jan. 21, 2020 at 4:39 PM EST
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UPDATE (Jan. 22):

The Virginia Senate approved legislation Wednesday that would allow authorities to take guns away from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others, as the state moves closer to joining a growing number of states enacting so-called “red flag” gun laws.

passed on a party line vote, 21-19, on Wednesday.

The Democratic-led Senate voted for

despite fierce resistance from Republican lawmakers. GOP Sen. Amanda Chase called supporters of the legislation “traitors” and said the proposed law would embolden criminals and hurt law-abiding citizens.

Democrats said the bill could help prevent mass shootings and said similar laws have worked well in 17 other states. They also said the bill had been carefully crafted to preserve due process and protect individual rights.

The bill now moves to the House. It is one of several gun-control measures the new Democratic majority at the General Assembly is set to pass this year.

The move came just two days around 22,000 people crowded Richmond's Capitol Square and surrounding areas to support the 2nd Amendment and protest proposed gun laws, like the 'red flag' law.

Attempts to pass red flag laws in past years had all been killed in Republican-controlled committees before ever advancing to full-floor votes.

Here is the full summary of Senate Bill 240, according to the General Assembly's legislature website:

Creates a procedure by which any attorney for the Commonwealth or any law-enforcement officer may apply to a general district court, circuit court, or juvenile and domestic relations district court judge or magistrate for an emergency substantial risk order to prohibit a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm. If an emergency substantial risk order is issued, a judge or magistrate may issue a search warrant to remove firearms from such person. An emergency substantial risk order shall expire on the fourteenth day following issuance of the order. The bill requires a court hearing in the circuit court for the jurisdiction where the order was issued within 14 days from issuance of an emergency substantial risk order to determine whether a substantial risk order should be issued. Seized firearms shall be retained by a law-enforcement agency for the duration of an emergency substantial risk order or a substantial risk order or, for a substantial risk order and with court approval, may be transferred to a third party 21 years of age or older chosen by the person from whom they were seized. The bill allows the complainant of the original warrant to file a motion for a hearing to extend the substantial risk order prior to its expiration. The court may extend the substantial risk order for a period not longer than 180 days. The bill provides that persons who are subject to a substantial risk order, until such order has been dissolved by a court, are guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor for purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm; are disqualified from having a concealed handgun permit; and may not be employed by a licensed firearms dealer. The bill also provides that a person who transfers a firearm to a person he knows has been served with a warrant or who is the subject of a substantial risk order is guilty of a Class 4 felony. The bill creates a computerized substantial risk order registry for the entry of orders issued pursuant to provisions in the bill.


The day after

, the state Senate on Tuesday advanced legislation that would allow authorities to take guns away from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others.

The Democratic-led Senate gave preliminary approval to the so-called “red flag” law,


The bill had been passed by in previous Senate sessions, including the day when the Senate

, including universal background checks, a 'one handgun a month' law, and granting local governments the authority to ban weapons during permitted events in public spaces.

But on Tuesday, it went through several fights, with amendments proposed by Republicans ruled out of order and readings of substitutes waived.

Republicans blasted the bill as an assault on gun rights and civil liberties. Democrats said the bill was a thoughtful measure that would preserve due process while also protecting people against potential gun violence.

The measure is set for a final vote in the Senate, likely Wednesday, before going to the House.

The bill is one of several gun-control measures the new Democratic majority at the General Assembly is set to pass this year.

Also on Tuesday, the Democratic-led House killed several pro-gun measures in a subcommittee meeting. Those GOP-backed measures included a bill to allow people to carry concealed handguns without a permit and to repeal a limit on carrying weapons in churches and other places of worship.

Tuesday's legislative action came a day after tens of thousands of gun-rights activists from around the country rallied peacefully at the state Capitol to protest plans by the state’s Democratic leadership for gun control legislation. The proposed red flag law was one of the bills mentioned by speakers at the Lobby Day rally.

The pushback against proposed new gun restrictions began immediately after Democrats won majorities in both the state Senate and House of Delegates in November. Much of the opposition has focused on a proposed assault weapons ban, which was

, but remains alive

where no hearings have yet been held on it.

The bills which have already passed in the Senate

First was

, which would establish mandatory background checks for any transfer of firearms, including private sales. That bill, amid the priorities outlined in

, passed the Senate on 23-17 vote, with two Republicans joining Democrats to support it.

It exempts transfers between immediate family members and by estate administrators, as well as transfers during lawful activities at shooting ranges or similar spaces designed for target practice. It also exempts temporary transfers that occur while the owner is present or are necessary to prevent death or bodily harm. Additionally, it allows transfers of antique firearms, transfers that are part of a buy-back or give-back program and those that occur by operation of law.

Also passed by the full Senate were



Senate Bill 69 would institute a "one gun a month" law for Virginia limiting citizens to one handgun purchase within any 30-day period.

It exempts those with valid Virginia concealed handgun permits and those replacing a lost or stolen handgun, as well as law enforcement agencies, state and local correctional facilities, private security companies and those with special circumstances with a background check from Virginia State Police. It also exempts purchases made during a private sale for a personal collection of rare or historical items.

Virginia used to have a version of the same law, so it would essentially restore the commonwealth's previous rule. It passed on 21-19 vote along party lines.

Senate Bill 35 gives local governments the authority to ban the possession of firearms in public spaces during events which require a permit, like protests. It passed on a 21-19 party line vote as well.

Other bills and the future

To become law, each of these bills will also need pass the House of Delegates, then have any differences from the different chambers resolved and voted on, and then be signed into law by Gov. Ralph Northam, who has pledged to pass new gun laws since the Virginia Beach mass shooting last year.

During the hearing earlier this week, Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield said she was concerned about SB 35. She said the measure will create gun-free zones and disarm law-abiding citizens.

“The good guys won’t have the guns,” Chase said. “They won’t be able to protect themselves, and we’re basically creating a disastrous situation in which criminals will not follow the law, and it will only hurt and create victims.”

She referenced a 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting, which left 59 people dead, including the gunman, saying it occurred in a gun-free zone.

Sen. Dick Saslaw, D-Springfield, spoke in favor of SB 35. He said the measure does not infringe upon law-abiding citizens because they are still able to purchase multiple handguns a year.

“Twelve handguns a year is more than enough, for most citizens,” Saslaw said. “If you need more than that, go to Texas. They don’t have any laws.

As far as gun laws up for debate in the House of Delegates, like

, which shares a lot of similarities to the now-dead SB 16 'assault weapon' ban, none have yet advanced to the full House floor. HB 961 remains in the Committee on Public Safety, which has not discussed it yet.

Backlash across Virginia to proposed gun laws

On Monday, around 22,000 people gathered in and around Capitol Square in downtown Richmond for a massive rally on Lobby Day to protest plans by Democrats to pass gun control legislation.

Overall, the mood throughout the day was largely festive. Attendees spilled into the streets, chanting “USA” and waving signs denouncing Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam. Chants broke out on occasion calling for Northam to leave office, and crowds frequently began reciting the Pledge of Allegiance or singing the National Anthem.

After a state of emergency issued by Gov. Northam the week before due to "credible threats of violence," the rally remained peaceful. One arrest was made for a woman who was wearing a bandanna covering her face after getting two previous warnings by police, but no violence was reported.

The protesters, hailing from Virginia but also taking buses from around the country, came out in strong numbers despite frigid temperatures to send a message to legislators, they said. Many wore camouflage; Some waved flags with messages of support for President Donald Trump.

Monday's rally was organized by an influential grassroots gun-rights group, the Virginia Citizens Defense League. The group holds a yearly rally at the Capitol, typically a low-key event with a few hundred gun enthusiasts listening to speeches from a handful of ambitious Republican lawmakers. But this year, many more were expected. Second Amendment groups have identified the state as a rallying point for the fight against what they see as a national erosion of gun rights.

The pushback against proposed new gun restrictions began immediately after Democrats won majorities in both the state Senate and House of Delegates in November.

In the months since Democrats took control of Virginia's government for the first time in over two decades, over 100 localities across Virginia have passed resolutions declaring themselves "Second Amendment Sanctuaries," stating that they're opposed to any bills which would restrict Second Amendment rights.

Democrats in the General Assembly say the bills moving forward, like red flag laws and universal background checks, are "common-sense gun safety measures" that don't restrict any Constitutional rights.

"The pieces of legislation that we're offering is to keep guns out of prohibitive hands," said Gov. Northam. "It's very simple. They're constitutional and they support the Second Amendment."

Special hearings on the topic of becoming Second Amendment Sanctuaries have drawn thousands of peoples in localities across the commonwealth, including a href="" target="_blank">Augusta County



, and


The city of Harrisonburg held a discussion on a Second Amendment Sanctuary resolution, with no public comments permitted, and

. The city of Waynesboro held a special hearing, packed with several hundred people, but

after discussing becoming a "constitutional city" instead of a "Second Amendment sanctuary." The city of Staunton hosted public comments about a similar resolution, though the topic wasn't on their agenda, and


To counter possible gun control laws, the concept of becoming a 'Second Amendment sanctuary' means that a county expresses its intent that its public funds not be used to restrict Second Amendment rights.

According to the resolution passed in Rockingham County, for instance, the Board of Supervisors "expresses its continuing intent to uphold, support and defend all rights protected and guaranteed by the Constitution of the Commonwealth of Virginia and the Constitution of the United States."

In an

, Attorney General Mark Herring concluded that localities and local constitutional officers “cannot nullify state laws” and must follow any gun violence prevention measures passed by the General Assembly.