Local / Politics / Virginia

Domestic violence, gun-control groups divided over gun bill

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Advocates for domestic violence victims in Virginia who’ve long sought to toughen the state’s gun laws are praising a rare compromise in Richmond that could finally shepherd into law a measure that would strip abusers of their gun rights.

But the bill being debated in Virginia doesn’t go as far as states with similar laws, drawing criticism from gun-control activists who say more work needs to be done.

A key piece of the gun compromise hammered out between Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe and top GOP lawmakers last month would bar people who are subject to permanent protective orders from possessing a firearm.

If the General Assembly passes the bill this year, Virginia will join more than a dozen states that have strengthened laws over the past two years to keep firearms out of the hands of domestic abusers.

“As an advocacy group that has been trying to accomplish this for years, it’s is a very big deal,” said Kristi VanAudenhove, executive director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance.

But unlike 15 states with similar laws, Virginia’s bill doesn’t explicitly require abusers to surrender their guns or establish a process to ensure that occurs, said Jonas Oransky, an attorney with Everytown for Gun Safety. The states vary in terms of where abusers have to turn in their guns and how the state guarantees they do that, Oransky said.

The Virginia bill sets up no such process and abusers would still be allowed to carry a firearm for 24 hours after being served a protective order so that they can sell or transfer their guns.

“The story is not over. They can fix this bill,” Oransky said. “There are 15 state models that they can look at,” he said.

VanAudenhove said in a perfect world, her group would also like to see Virginia mandate that abusers surrender their weapons to law enforcement officials. But the legislation is a good first step, she said.

“Is it perfect? No. But I’m very much in the camp that when we have these type of divisive issues and both parties can come together to an agreement, that’s really important and it’s definitely a step forward,” she said.

In Virginia, people who are subject to a permanent protective order — which can last for up for two years — currently cannot purchase or transport a firearm but are allowed to possess one. Federal law already bars those individuals from possessing a gun, but VanAudenhove said outlawing it at the state level will have a big impact because it will allow local law enforcement agencies to enforce the ban.

The legislation still needs to get through the GOP-controlled General Assembly, but the House version of the bill is being sponsored by the speaker of the House and is expected to pass. A Senate version passed the upper chamber with a 31-7 vote on Friday.

With 220 deaths, Virginia ranks among the top 10 in the country in firearm killings by spouses, ex-spouses or dating partners between 2006 and 2014, according to an analysis of FBI data by The Associated Press.

Republicans and gun-rights activists have historically opposed the protective order legislation, saying in part that it’s unnecessary because it’s already covered under federal law.

But GOP leaders have agreed to get behind the proposal this year in exchange for the reversal of Attorney General Mark Herring’s policy that would have invalidated in Virginia the concealed handgun permits of residents from 25 states. The deal between GOP leaders and McAuliffe also calls for the attorney general to enter into new reciprocity agreements with states whose permits haven’t previously been recognized in Virginia.

“This is a very rare coming together,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of the pro-gun rights group Virginia Citizens Defense League, which is neutral on the protective orders bill because it’s part of the larger compromise that he says will ultimately benefit gun owners.

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