After a peaceful demonstration in Richmond, Virginia, on Monday, January 20, the news cycle is likely to abandon the gun rights battle occurring in the home state of the NRA.
Although the annual Lobby Day demonstrations—where Virginians regularly exercise their rights to petition their state government—are over, the outstanding question of gun ownership restrictions in Virginia remains essential to the national discussion on the meaning and practice of the Second Amendment.
While only local news outlets and conservative-leaning media are paying attention to the conflict of ideas in Virginia, what happens in Virginia will have significant consequences for Second Amendment rights across the country.
Here are the answers to the most important questions surrounding Monday’s protest:
1. What legislation is on the table and does it have a chance of passing?
Currently in the Democrat-led Virginia Legislature, several pieces of legislation have been introduced that will significantly alter the rights of gun owners in Virginia. Although many of these bills have become law in several other states in the Republic, some are original prototypes that could gain traction across other states.
The following is only a sample of the gun legislation currently on the floor of the Virginia Legislature:
- HB 2: Excluding transfers between immediate family members and transfers as part of an estate, all gun purchasers will be subjected to a background investigation regardless of the method of purchase. “A transferor who sells a firearm to another person without obtaining the required background check is guilty of a Class 6 felony,” punishable by one to five years in prison.
- HB 9: This bill requires that an individual who has lost his firearm or suspects that it may have been stolen must report the lost weapon to the police within 24 hours. Failure to report a lost or stolen firearm is punishable by up to a $250 fine.
- HB 78: Any person convicted of “a misdemeanor violation of assault and battery of a family or household member” would no longer be legally allowed to own a firearm and would have their firearms removed from their possession by law enforcement. Violations of this law would constitute a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to 12 months in prison and/or a $2,500 fine.
- HB 426: Changing existing provisions, this bill would make carrying a loaded shotgun or rifle in eight major cities and five major counties illegal regardless of concealed carry permits. The law specifically includes an exemption for those who are “actually engaged in lawful hunting or lawful recreational shooting activities at an established shooting range or shooting contest.”
- HB 463: Although current law in this area is much less severe, this bill proposes “that any person who negligently leaves a loaded, unsecured firearm in such a manner as to endanger the life or limb of any person under the age of 18 is guilty of a Class 6 felony” punishable by one to five years in prison.
- HB 812: This bill “prohibits any person who is not a licensed firearms dealer from purchasing more than one handgun in a 30-day period and makes such an offense a Class 1 misdemeanor,” which is punishable by up to 12 months in prison and/or a $2,500 fine.
- SB 240: A so called “Red-Flag Law,” this legislation establishes protocol 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.”
2. Do any of these laws officially violate the Second Amendment in the eyes of current law?
Short answer: No. Long Answer: Not right now, but maybe depending upon the Supreme Court.
Like it or not, our current system vests the powers of interpreting the Constitution—and our rights protected by that document—to the Supreme Court. Although the Second Amendment was penned in clear English, the exact meaning of the entirety of the statement has been vigorously debated since its ratification in 1791.
Prior to the passage of the 14th Amendment in 1868, there was no question that the Bill of Rights and subsequent rights-protecting amendments only applied to federal law; thus, the Second Amendment was interpreted in the Antebellum Era to only apply to the federal government’s restrictions on state militias and interstate weapon ownership.
This conventional logic, however, changed with the language of the 14th Amendment, stating:
No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.
Although this clause on its surface would lead the reader to presume that all rights protected at the federal level would be incorporated into state protection, this did not officially happen for gun ownership protections until 2008 with D.C. v Heller and 2010 with McDonald v. Chicago. In both of these cases, the Court challenged state restrictions on gun ownership and use based upon the Second Amendment and the 14th Amendment.
As the national conversation regarding gun ownership continues to escalate, it is expected that cases currently in the lower courts will eventually reach the Supreme Court. Only time will tell whether or not the Court chooses to rule on these cases or future cases, determining the constitutionality of gun restrictions across the United States.
3. Why does gun legislation in Virginia matter? Why should I care if I’m not from Virginia?
Virginia has always been the vanguard of political change in America. From its critical role in the American Revolution to its planting the seeds of secession before the Civil War, Virginia’s importance to the fundamental values of the United States cannot be understated.
In contemporary history, Virginia is a microcosm of our struggles as an ideologically divided nation. With a widening chasm between the conservative and liberal populations in Virginia, how Virginia handles its problems could be an indication of how the United States will handle its growing factional differences.
Regardless of your stance on the Second Amendment, Virginia is the current battle ground between left and right in American politics. How they handle gun legislation in the coming months, especially with the 2020 election cycle quickly approaching, could be an important predictor of our future political struggles as a nation.