RICHMOND, Va. — Democratic legislators said Tuesday they will continue to fight for gun control laws as Republicans continued to kill bills to restrict firearms.
Six Democratic delegates held a press conference to discuss proposals such as banning weapons from public libraries. Del. Roslyn Tyler of Sussex County said gun violence has been endangering Virginians for years.
“We cannot allow this problem to get worse,” Tyler said. “We cannot stay idle as gun violence leads to more and more empty seats at the dinner tables across the country.”
Del. John Bell of Loudoun County touted his bill to require applicants for a concealed weapons permit to show in-person “competence with a handgun.” Currently, applicants can get a permit by completing a video or online training course.
Bell called HB 91 a “very common-sense bill.” Last week, a House subcommittee killed it on a 4-2 vote.
Bell, who served in the U.S. Air Force for more than 26 years, noted that he went through extensive training to be able to carry a weapon. He said civilians also should receive adequate training in front of a certified instructor before obtaining a concealed carry permit.
“The current online training is far inadequate,” Bell said. “It doesn’t have eyes on from qualified instructors to know if that holster is properly fitted. You have to watch those things in real life, in real time.”
Groups such as the National Rifle Association opposed Bell’s measure. He said they should support it.
“I believe the groups like the NRA and the Virginia Citizens Defense League who oppose this bill are missing a tremendous opportunity to provide low-cost frequent training and to do a public good,” Bell said.
“I believe in the Second Amendment. I’m a gun owner. But I think responsible gun ownership is important, and I believe every gun owner should have a background check and should show they were properly trained before they’re given a concealed carry permit.”
So far this session, Republicans have defeated several gun control bills sponsored by Democrats, including one to require background checks on all gun purchases. On Monday, the Republican majority in the House rejected a resolution to ban firearms from the chamber’s gallery while delegates are in session.
Shortly after the Democrats’ news conference, Republican legislators held one of their own. They argued that citizens should be able to carry weapons in places of worship.
Virginia law prohibits guns in churches and other religious settings. But last week, the Senate voted 21-18 along party lines to repeal that law.
Just as politicians are protected by armed security, members of a congregation should be allowed to arm themselves for self-defense, said Del. Dave LaRock of Loudoun County.
He stood next to a poster of Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam speaking to an interfaith group about gun violence at St. Paul’s Episcopal Church last week. LaRock pointed out that the governor’s security detail was nearby.
LaRock said it is not fair that the governor gets treated differently than Virginia citizens who are barred from carrying weapons in places of worship. He said it appears to be a double standard.
“The law that’s on the book says that weapons are prohibited in church without good and sufficient reason, which is vague,” LaRock said. “And we don’t believe laws that are vague should be on the books.”
He said Northam signaled that he would veto SB 371, which would rescind that law, if it passes the General Assembly.
“We pose the question,” LaRock said. “He deserves armed protection in church, but others don’t? We’re just asking him to fill in the blank and explain to us why.”
This story was produced by Virginia Commonwealth University’s Capital News Service.