Virginia’s Gun Control Bills Won’t Stop Criminals: Law Enforcement Community

February 12, 2020 Updated: February 13, 2020

As a raft of strict gun control proposals is being debated in Virginia’s state legislature, those in the law enforcement community are increasingly being prodded to make their stance clear.

Nearly a dozen current and former members of law enforcement from across the country, some who declined to provide their name since they were not authorized to speak in an official capacity, told The Epoch Times that passing more legislation will do nothing to stop criminals from committing crimes.

An overwhelming number said the nation’s focus should be on solving the root of the problem addressing America’s mental health crisis. Although the majority were against all forms of gun control, a sliver supported background checks and other less overreaching proposals, saying that they seemed reasonable. (All opposed measures that would ban so-called assault weapons).

Sean McGowan, executive director of the Southern States Police Benevolent Association, a group with over 60,000 members in 11 states—including 6,000 members in Virginia alone—said the gun control bills have caused emotions to run high.

“I’ve never seen our membership as upset about any legislation as they are about this,” McGowan told The Epoch Times.

“It will have no impact on crime,” he said. “The criminals ignore the laws. Why would more laws make the criminals all of a sudden decide they’re going start obeying the laws? It’s ridiculous.”

One of the more controversial measures in Virginia is a bill that would ban the owning and selling of “assault weapons.” Although the Senate version of the bill previously failed to pass, the state’s House of delegates just voted to pass their version of the legislation on Feb. 11. The bill H.B. 961 passed by a thin vote of 51–48.

The date of the bill’s passage was significant. If it failed to pass the House by the Feb. 11 deadline, it would not have been allowed to be sent to the Senate for consideration. Virginia’s legislative session ends in March this year.

The legislation HB 961, expands the definition of “assault firearm” and “prohibits any person from importing, selling, transferring, manufacturing, purchasing, possessing, or transporting an assault firearm.” Violating the proposed bill would result in a Class 6 felony. Class 6 felonies are punishable by a prison term ranging between 1 to 5 years.

Kyle Reyes, the national spokesman for Law Enforcement Today, an online publication owned and operated entirely by law enforcement, said that officers he has spoken to won’t prosecute citizens, even if the bills become law.

“The countless conversations that we’ve had with literally thousands of officers between Virginia and the surrounding states is that they would sooner turn over their gun and badge than confiscate firearms from law-abiding citizens,” he told The Epoch Times.

Epoch Times Photo
A Richmond Police car in Richmond, Va., on Jan. 20, 2020. (Samira Bouaou/The Epoch Times)

HB 961 also makes clear that any Virginian who legally owns an assault firearm on July 1, 2020, “may retain possession of such assault firearm after January 1, 2021, if such person has obtained a permit from the Department of State Police to possess an assault firearm in accordance with procedures established in the bill.”

Democrats won control of the state’s House and Senate chamber in the November elections and have vowed to enact stronger gun control policies, saying it will help reduce shootings and deaths.

The party now has full control of the General Assembly—for the first time in over two decades—and Virginia’s governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general are Democrats as well.

Reyes pointed out that the response time for law enforcement in rural areas was too long, and emphasized the importance of self defense among citizens.

“Removing firearms from the hands of law-abiding citizens will increase crime by decreasing the ability of residents to protect themselves,” he said. “In a lot of these rural areas the response time is upwards of 10 minutes. In a violent situation law enforcement is only going to be able to respond after crimes occur.”

Gun rights groups and Second Amendment advocates have repeatedly decried the measures, saying that the proposed bills violate their constitutional rights. On Jan. 20, a gun-rights rally opposing the legislation drew at least 22,000 Second Amendment advocates from across the country to Richmond.

The measures have awakened a sleeping giant, not just in Virginia, but nationally, according to Reyes. He said their platform reached just under 70 million people last month and that the overwhelming majority of those who reached out to them “are incredibly opposed to what’s happening in Virginia.”

He said what’s frightening is that many officers have their hands tied and cannot voice their opinions officially, which is fueling “a further divide where you have people who believe that because law enforcement isn’t fairly outspoken, they’re going to enforce what they perceive to be as unconstitutional laws.”

All of the proposed bills will have to be approved by both the House and Senate before being signed by Gov. Ralph Northam to become law. Northam has indicated previously that he would sign such legislation. He and other Democratic lawmakers in the state have credited their focus on gun control for helping them win full control of the General Assembly, according to The Associated Press.

A current police Lieutenant and former SWAT Officer told The Epoch Times there is a “strong feeling” from the law enforcement community that a lot of the laws being put on the books “are contrary to things like the Constitution of the United States.” He requested anonymity since he was not authorized to speak in an official capacity.

“We’re sworn to uphold the Constitution, the laws of whatever state we’re in, and the laws of whatever municipality were in,” he said. “So when you look at the hierarchy, if laws are being passed that we feel are contrary to our constitutional rights, that puts us in a hard place.”

From talks with other law enforcement officers, the lieutenant said that opinions on such legislation varies among them. He himself supports universal background checks, which is also one of the bills being discussed in Virginia’s legislature.

“I think there’s advocates on both sides,” he said. “Certainly when you think about law enforcement officers, many of them are very pro Second Amendment, some of them may not be. We are neutral when it comes to enforcing law.”

The Virginia Senate has already passed a slew of gun control bills, including measures to require background checks on all firearms sales, limit handgun purchases to one per month, and restoring local government powers to ban weapons from public buildings and other venues.

David Chianese, a former NYPD detective said he opposes nearly all of the proposed gun control bills in Virginia. He has no issue with background checks, noting that he had to go through an extensive background check himself and that although people do slip through the cracks, “a thorough and proper vetting catches most who would not and should not qualify.”

Chianese strongly opposes any “red flag” law legislation. He told The Epoch Times that during his time in the NYPD he saw “countless of cases where perpetrators had filed false complaints for use of force, corruption or a slew of other violations as payback for arrests.”

“Mass murderers do not need firearms but rather a depraved indifference to life and opportunity,” Chianese added.

Virginia’s Senate passed a “red flag” bill on Jan. 22. The bill, once signed into law, allows authorities to apply to certain courts 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.”

Nora Demleitner, a Professor of Law at Washington and Lee University told The Epoch Times that the law enforcement reaction to Virginia’s proposed legislation appears to be “split along traditional lines.”

“While police chiefs from large cities (nationally and in Virginia), including those from Northern Virginia’s densely populated suburbs, support gun control legislation, a number of more rural sheriffs in Virginia follow in the footsteps of others nationally in opposing gun control legislation,” she said via email.

Law enforcement officers that are connected to Alex Horsman, marketing manager at Ammo.com, view the proposed bills in Virginia as “feel good” laws, he said.

“They are put into place to make people feel good and safe when in reality, they won’t change a thing,” he said via email.

Some law enforcement members are publicly making their stance known. To protect the rights of Virginians, Culpepper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins told The Epoch Times previously that he would “deputize citizens” as auxiliary deputies to protect their constitutional right to bear firearms.

The right for Americans to bear arms in the country is one of our “most basic freedoms,” Rick Musson, an 18-year law enforcement officer and a consultant for USInsuranceAgents.com told The Epoch Times via email.

As the bills advance through the state legislature, gun sales meanwhile have increased exponentially.

In January, there were 67,699 background checks conducted under the National Instant Criminal Background System, which are mandatory when purchasing firearms at retail stores. In January 2019, the number of background checks was 36,678, according to an analysis of FBI data by the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF).

The Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was passed by Congress on Sept. 25, 1789, and was ratified on Dec. 15, 1791. The text reads, “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

‘Inherent Duty’

The right to bear arms speaks especially to Sherry Potter, the wife of an officer killed in the line of duty. Potter told The Epoch Times her personal experiences helped shape her belief that everyone has “the absolute ability to protect themselves, their family and their property, in any way that they deem fit.”

In August 2005, Sherry’s then husband, Timothy Graham, a Pima County (Ariz.) Sheriff’s Department Deputy was killed in the line of duty during a foot pursuit with a suspect. A vehicle struck and killed him as he was attempting to subdue a young man who had earlier been released from a county facility where he was being treated for mental illness. Graham’s death happened one month after they got married.

When Timothy was killed, Potter said she survived with two sons from her first marriage who were 7 and 10 years old. As time passed and she returned to work, one day she was visited by a detective in the same department as her late husband. The detective told her a man had developed an unhealthy obsession with her family after seeing photos in the paper, and had even expressed his intention of stepping into Timothy’s role.

The man was well known to law enforcement and had an extensive history of domestic violence and weapons charges. Potter said the sheriff’s department posted officers at her workplace and home for the next few weeks.

“Even with an officer posted outside my door, I still made certain that Tim’s off duty weapon was never far from my reach,” she said. “As a parent, I think we all understand the inherent duty we have to protect our children. In that moment, I began to understand how crucial the ability to defend oneself against those wishing to do harm, particularly for women, truly is.”

Three years after losing Timothy, Sherry married Chris Potter, also a police officer. They became a family of five, and with Chris working nights “we had many discussions about my duty as the parent at home, and my willingness to do whatever it took to address a threat, should the unthinkable occur.”

“Even those of us who live with a police officer, do not always have the luxury of having them present every minute of every day,” she said.

Potter said its the “personal responsibility” of every citizen to decide if they want to wait for police to arrive to address a threat, or choose to exercise their Second Amendment right.

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