Virginia Passes New Firearms Laws That Prohibit the Possession of a Firearm While Subject to a Protective Order
On July 1, 2016 House Bill 1391 (Virginia Code section 18.8-308.1:4) became law, making it a class six felony to possess a firearm while subject to a protective order. If convicted of possessing a firearm while subject to a protective order, you could face up to five years in prison. The magnanimous lawmakers in Richmond give the citizen-accused 24 hours to turn over his firearms to local law enforcement where his firearm will be held until he is no longer subject to the protective order – up to two years. So far, Virginia law enforcement agencies have established over 50 gun collection sites.
This law, while sending tingly shivers up the thigh of the anti-gun lobby, is truly unnecessary because federal law had already made it a crime to possess a firearm while subject to a protective order. The federal law, which has existed since 1968, calls for a prison sentence of “not more than ten years” and up to a $2,500.00 fine for possessing a firearm while subject to a protective order. Federal anti-gun laws, enacted since 1996, pose a lifetime ban on all firearm ownership if one is convicted of simple assault and battery on a family member or domestic partner. In Virginia, one of the very few ways to lift this lifetime ban is to receive a pardon from the Governor. Given the fact that possessing a firearm after a misdemeanor domestic violence conviction or while subject to a protective order has been a felony for decades – it make you wonder why they needed another law on the books.
As a result of a compromise made between lawmakers and the anti-gun Governor, several other firearms laws went into effect on July 1, 2016. The most important aspect of the compromise legislation is that Virginia will recognize the concealed weapons permits (CWP) of many other States – allowing those States to recognize CWPs issued in Virginia. This means that Virginian CWP holders may now legally carry their firearm into many other States. Before traveling, check the Destination State to make sure they are one of the States that recognize a Virginia CWP. There are many websites that can help you figure out if the State you are going to recognizes your Virginia CWP.
Another law that went into effect this year requires law enforcement to be present at gun shows to allow individuals to voluntarily submit to background checks before purchasing a gun from another individual. The law currently requires all dealers to do a criminal back ground check on anyone they sell a firearm to at a gun show. The vast majority of all firearm sales at gun shows have always been subject to a criminal background check. This new law simply allows a private seller to do a back ground check on a private buyer to ensure the buyer is legally permitted to own a firearm.
If the lawmakers in Richmond ever expanded the law to make it mandatory to submit to a background check before transferring a firearm to a private individual it would have a chilling effect on numerous transactions. A father would have to run a background on his 13 year old son before giving him a .22 rifle for Christmas; or the executor of an estate would have to run a background check on the children of the deceased before allowing them to take possession of their family heirloom firearm.
Approximately 5,000 Virginians are placed under a Protective Order every year. Most folks would think it is okay to seize the firearms of a person that was subject to a protective order, after all, they must have done something wrong, or be a danger to society – right? Wrong. In most cases, a person subject to a Protective Order has not broken any laws; they have not been accused of any crimes, and have not been convicted of a crime. In many cases, a Protective Order is issued against a person based on the uncorroborated testimony of a highly emotional and vengeful ex-domestic partner. Courts seem to handout Protective Orders like they have no meaning or consequences. When the standard to issue a Protective Order is so low; the citizen-accused should not lose his Constitutional rights based on that alone.
The other serious flaw with Virginia Law is that there is no automatic mechanism for a citizen to recover his gun rights after a misdemeanor conviction of A&B on a family member. Federal Law provides that a citizen’s right to possess a firearm can be restored if State law provides for the right to be revoked and then restored after a period of time. Virginia lawmakers could easily remedy this problem by making it illegal to possess a firearm for a period of time after a domestic abuse conviction. When the rights are restored under Virginia law – they would automatically be restored under federal law as well. Domestic abuse is a serious crime, which should be punished in a civilized society; however, a lifetime ban on owning a firearm, a constitutionally protected right, is an excessive punishment. I am in favor of a temporary firearms ban after a domestic violence conviction, until the situation cools down; and, for multiple offenses, perhaps a lifetime ban. However, to take away a person’s right to defend himself for life because of a single youthful mistake is outrageous. Virginia lawmakers should have the courage to stand up for Virginians’ second amendment rights and amend the Virginia Code to allow for the restoration of firearms rights after a reasonable period of time.