The second week of the 2023 legislative session began with what many groups refer to as “lobby day” – Martin Luther King Jr Day, when school and work closures allow a wide range of constituencies to visit the Capitol in Richmond. The halls of the Pocahontas building teemed with advocates for education, tenants' rights groups, high school students on field trips, and parents with young children, many witnessing the process of representative government for the first time. The diverse viewpoints and perspectives shared throughout the halls of government all day on Monday were a reminder to my colleagues and me of the solemn duty of both representing our constituencies, and the complex interests of our entire Commonwealth here in Richmond.
Much agreement is found during these meetings, but sometimes, civil discourse on contentious topics does not come to a mutual resolution. One such issue, which we hear a great deal about is gun violence. Each year, advocates from the Virginia Citizens Defense League organize in Richmond on MLK Day to discuss their strongly held beliefs of an unlimited right to bear arms. While we disagree, often strongly, I always appreciate meeting with constituents with differing opinions and having robust debate over these issues.
I was glad to stand with a group of my colleagues including Senators Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax), Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax), and Dave Marsden (D-Fairfax) to announce the roll out of the Senate Democratic Caucus’s gun violence prevention priorities, which includes two bills I introduced. Our legislative agenda includes bills to ban the sale of assault-style weapons, create penalties for the negligent storage of firearms in homes with minors present; establish civil fines for leaving an unsecured firearm in a vehicle; establish standards of responsible conduct for the firearm industry in Virginia, and enacting clear criteria and parameters for judges to review when filing Extreme Risk Protective Orders (also known as red-flag laws).
My two pieces of legislation ban the sale of “ghost guns” and the open, public carry of assault-style semi-automatic weapons. Ghost guns are untraceable firearms which can be bought online, assembled from kits with ease, and function precisely like any other firearm. These weapons pose a serious and deliberate problem. Law enforcement report seeing a rise in the use of ghost guns in criminal acts and accidental shootings. The process of converting ghost gun parts — which can be purchased without a background check, license or record of sale, into a functioning firearm — involves just a few steps and can be completed without any special skill. They are particularly enticing to people who cannot pass a background check — domestic abusers, minors, organized crime, and those with a violent felony record. My legislation seeks to fix a loophole: manufacturers are required to put a serial number on finished firearms but not on individual parts. This bill requires manufacturers, dealers, and distributors to add a serial number, which legitimizes a weapon and makes it traceable if used in a crime.
My second bill bans the public carry of assault style weapons, whose definition closely reflects the highly successful 1994 assault weapon ban. Weapons of war have no place in civil society and certainly not on our streets where they frighten our families. Regular issue law enforcement service weapons aren’t a match for these military weapons and their standard issue vests can’t stop a high velocity bullet. This legislation is critical both to preserving safety in public spaces, but also to protect our public servants.
I look forward to a spirited debate on these important bills in the coming weeks.
It is my continued honor to serve the 30th District.