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After soaring under Obama, gun industry drops under Trump

 

By Nick Versaw and Tyler Woodall, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Earlier this year, gun rights groups and gun control advocates met at Capitol Square to face off in dueling rallies and seek support for their views. Gun rights advocates held blaze orange signs that read “Guns save lives.” Their adversaries preached stricter regulation with a sea of yellow signs that proclaimed the opposite – “Background checks save lives.”

This wouldn’t be the first time, or the last, that the opposite ends of the gun spectrum would meet to express their perspectives on firearms.

The Second Amendment has remained at the forefront of the American consciousness for decades. According to the Pew Research Center, gun policy was one of the five most important issues for voters during the 2016 presidential campaign.

As the country has become more partisan, opinions on guns have become increasingly polarizing. “The gap in how candidates’ supporters view overall priorities for the nation’s gun policy is much wider today than it has been in any presidential campaign dating to 2000,” Pew stated.

This polarization in Americans’ views on guns has created a climate where the firearms industry and the political landscape of the day share a closer relationship than one might think.

During the eight-year term of Democratic and gun-control-minded President Barack Obama, firearm sales soared.

In 2016, the number of queries to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System required to purchase a gun topped 27 million – a 116 percent increase from 2008, the final year of George W. Bush’s presidency. Moreover, in the first six years of the Obama presidency, the number of guns manufactured in the United States more than doubled.

As much as firearm manufacturers may not like to admit it, the anti-gun ideology of the Obama administration provided a massive boost to business. The stock prices of two of the premier firearm manufacturers – American Outdoor Brands (formerly called Smith & Wesson) and Sturm, Ruger & Co. – experienced tenfold increases during the eight years following Obama’s 2008 election.

However, this close-knit relationship wasn’t always the case. For example, the last time a Democrat was in the White House, this connection was not as apparent. During President Bill Clinton’s second term in office from 1996-2000, the number of guns manufactured took a slight dip. During Clinton’s final two years in the Oval Office, sales followed a similar trend.

During George W. Bush’s eight years in office, the industry saw a 48 percent increase as the post-9/11 fear of terrorism spread across the country, but the rise paled in comparison to what the industry experienced during Obama’s presidency.

However, the industry began a swift downturn following the election of Republican Donald Trump, a staunch advocate of the Second Amendment, in November.

In the first three months of 2017, coinciding with Trump’s first 100 days in office, gun sale background checks dropped nearly 13 percent compared with the previous year. Taking those figures into consideration, the United States is on pace to sell nearly 1 million fewer guns than in 2016.

Virginia gun dealers have not been immune to these trends. Peyton Galanti, marketing manager for Richmond’s Colonial Shooting Academy, said the Broad Street gun range has witnessed this firsthand.

“Sales have been much slower since Election Day,” Galanti said. “The economy is still slow, especially in retail. Customers are not yet comfortable spending money. Without the panic of losing their (Second Amendment) rights, customers are making more calculated, prudent spending decisions.”

In addition to a drop in sales, overall consumer confidence in the firearms industry has plummeted since the Nov. 8 election. Stock prices of Vista Outdoor Inc. – owner of many of the most popular ammunition companies in addition to gun makers Savage Arms and Stevens – have dropped by nearly 50 percent.

This trend has led to layoffs at major manufacturers of firearms ammunitions and gun-related accessories.

In March, firearms manufacturer Remington – one of the top producers of guns in the country – laid off more than 120 workers in an upstate New York manufacturing plant the company has operated since the 19th century.

That same month, Federal Premium Ammunition cut 110 jobs in Minnesota.

Magpul – a top weapons accessories manufacturer – laid off 85 workers in April from a Wyoming-based plant. The workers were part of a hiring increase to help meet the market demands of the company’s products throughout the Obama presidency. The layoffs came after the company saw a return to normal demand in the first quarter of 2017.

Galanti believes the fear created by the Obama administration’s anti-gun ideology led to an oversaturation of the firearms market over the course of the past eight years.

“This industry was flooded with people who wanted a piece of the pie, and these fly-by-night companies probably will not weather the storm of 2017,” Galanti said. “There have already been many layoffs around the country, and companies are restructuring. The suppressor business has been especially hurt.” Suppressors, or silencers, can be attached to gun muzzles to reduce the noise of firing.

Galanti blames the Obama administration for uncertain economic conditions that have caused an unwillingness of Americans to spend their hard-earned money on guns.

“People are reluctant to spend because American incomes have been hit so hard over the last eight years,” Galanti said. “Given much change under the current president, the economy will become unchained and roll like a steam engine again in the future. We just don’t know how long it will take.”

Many within the industry believe the economic policies of the pro-gun Trump administration will lead to stability in the gun market after what they saw as eight years of uncertainty under Obama.

“The industry is expecting to normalize over 2017 and get back to steady consistent sales, instead of the yo-yo/panic buying of the past, where supply and demand were so off balance,” Galanti added.

However, it is unknown where that “new normal” will lie or when the market will stabilize after the distinctive surge under Obama. The pro-Second Amendment policies of the current president may stave off the fear of further control and regulation after what Trump called an “eight-year assault” on guns.

At the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting last week, Trump proclaimed that gun-owners now “have a true friend and champion in the White House.” Whether that will lead to a strong market for firearms remains to be seen.

Polarization over guns leads to surge in legislation

By Tyler Woodall and Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

The 2016 presidential election was one of the most polarizing election cycles in recent memory, as supporters from both sides of the aisle expressed their distaste for the opposing party’s candidate and hot-button issues rose to the front of the United States’ collective political mind.

With tragedies like the Sandy Hook, Pulse nightclub and San Bernardino shootings littering the past several years, the fight to crack down on guns has risen to the forefront of the American political landscape.

According to the Pew Research Center, gun policy was among the five most important issues to the American populace during last year’s election – more important to voters than even immigration, Social Security and education.

However, while guns remained a hot-button issue among Americans, there were some topics that supporters of both Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton were able to agree upon.

For example, according to Pew, at least 75 percent of both candidates’ supporters agreed on mandated background checks at gun shows. At least 82 percent of each group also saw eye to eye when it came to restrictions on gun ownership for people with mental illness.

Even so, voters remained sharply divided over many other gun-related issues.

Nearly 75 percent of Clinton supporters endorsed restrictions on assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, while only 34 percent of Trump supporters shared that viewpoint.

 

 

 
 

The distance between the two parties on guns has increased dramatically in recent years. According to Pew, there was a 20 percentage-point difference between the supporters of Al Gore and George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential race when it came to controlling gun ownership versus protecting gun rights. That gap more than doubled to 41 points in the 2012 race and ballooned to a 70-point difference between Trump and Clinton supporters last year.

The country’s overall viewpoint on gun rights has flipped since the 2000 election. That year, 66 percent of voters supported restricting gun rights, with only 29 percent looking to protect gun ownership. By 2016, those figures had reversed, with more than half of voters supporting gun ownership.

In addition, Pew found that a majority of the public believes that gun ownership in the United States does more to protect citizens from being a victim of crimes. A little over a third think guns are putting the public in greater danger.

These trends have led to a flood of gun-related legislation at both the state and federal levels.

In Virginia, 111 weapons-related bills were introduced to the General Assembly in 2016 – a 170 percent increase over the previous year. Of those bills, only 14 were signed into law by Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat.

 

 

 
 

During his four-year term as governor, McAuliffe witnessed this increase in gun legislation first-hand. McAuliffe’s predecessor, Republican Bob McDonnell, saw 171 weapons-related bills introduced during his time as governor. McAuliffe has seen 300.

With the 2017 governor’s race heating up, the state’s gun policy hangs in the balance. With a Republican-led General Assembly, a GOP gubernatorial win in November could lead to an expansion of gun rights over the next four years.

Even if a Democrat is elected governor, the trends indicate gun regulation will remain at the forefront of the local and national political landscape.

McAuliffe suggests lowering fine for left-lane dawdlers

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe wants the General Assembly to reduce from $250 to $100 the fine in legislation that would punish motorists for driving too slowly in the left lane on Virginia highways.

Under current Virginia law, driving in the left lane at less than the normal speed of traffic is illegal except when passing or when it is deemed “otherwise impractical,” but there is no fine for failing to obey the law. House Bill 2201, sponsored by a bipartisan team of legislators including Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, and Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, would change that.

O’Quinn said “left-lane bandits” have become a “particularly pervasive and ever-growing problem” on Virginia roadways. Supporters of the bill say fining drivers for abusing the left lane would help decrease traffic congestion on Virginia’s highways and reduce accidents and road rage incidents.

The bill, which specified a fine of $250, was passed by both chambers of the General Assembly and sent to the governor for approval. Rather than sign or veto the legislation, McAuliffe recommended Friday that lawmakers amend the bill by lowering the fine from the $250 to $100.

On Saturday, the House voted 89-8 to adopt the governor’s recommendation. The Senate is expected to act on the matter when legislators return to the Capitol for a one-day session on April 5.

If the amendment fails to receive a majority vote in the Senate, the bill would return to the governor with the $250 fine, and he could sign or veto it.

McAuliffe vetoes bill to disclose refugee records

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed a bill Friday that would have required the state Department of Social Services to publish non-identifying information for refugees resettled across Virginia.

“Many individuals and families placed in Virginia through the U.S. Refugee Resettlement Program are fleeing governmental oppression, persecution, and violence,” McAuliffe said in his veto statement.

“Many leave their countries because they are targeted by their home country’s government, often for helping to further American interests. Disclosing such information in this political climate not only sends a message of discrimination and fear, but it also poses a real danger to many of our newest Virginians.”

House Bill 2002, introduced by Del. Charles Poindexter, R-Franklin County, would have required immigrant resettlement agencies, such as the Catholic Diocese and the U.S. State Department, to report demographic information on refugees, including the total number of refugees, the localities in which they have been placed and other facts, to Virginia’s Department of Social Services. Those reports would then be forwarded to other government agencies, including the General Assembly and the governor’s office.

Supporters of the bill argue these reports would give government officials the ability to plan for benefits, health care and other related social costs, as well as lay out education-related expenses that would allow children of refugees to enroll in Virginia public schools.

McAuliffe said those requirements would instead put undue stress on the organizations in charge of resettling refugees.

“House Bill 2002 would create an unnecessary burden for already overworked nonprofit organizations and would limit these organizations’ ability to accomplish their mission of safely settling refugees in the commonwealth,” McAuliffe said.

The governor added that the regulations would also discourage those wanting to relocate from tenuous circumstances in foreign countries to the commonwealth.

“Refugees are in the United States legally,” he said. “They undergo a more rigorous screening process than anyone else allowed into the United States. Creating a publicly available list of these individuals would send a message of exclusion to people looking for the chance to rebuild their lives free of tyranny and oppression.”

“As Virginians, we know the many benefits and contributions that refugees bring to our communities and Virginia’s economy,” McAuliffe added. “House Bill 2002 sets us on the wrong path. It does not reflect Virginia’s values.”

The bill will now return to the General Assembly, where supporters will face an uphill battle in overriding the governor’s veto. In order to successfully countermand McAuliffe’s ruling, supporters would need to gather a two-thirds majority vote in both chambers.

With three Republican delegates already opposing the bill in the House and a 21-19 party-line split in the Senate, supporters would have to persuade more than a dozen legislators to flip their vote in order to enact the legislation.

Senate approval sends ‘Tebow Bill’ to McAuliffe

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia Senate narrowly approved a bill Monday that would allow home-schooled students across the commonwealth to play high school sports.

HB 1578, commonly known as the “Tebow Bill,” would eliminate a statewide ban prohibiting home-schooled students from participating in high school athletics and other interscholastic activities.

The Senate voted 22-18 in favor of the measure. Democratic Sen. Lynwood Lewis of Accomac joined the 21 Republican senators in voting for the bill, which had been approved by the House last month.

The bill, introduced by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, will be sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature. Sam Coleman, an aide to the Democratic governor, said McAuliffe plans to veto the legislation.

The bill is nicknamed for former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, who was allowed to play football for a high school in Florida while he was being home-schooled. Bell has introduced similar legislation each year since 2005.

In 2015 and 2016, Bell’s bills were passed by the General Assembly only to be vetoed by McAuliffe. The legislation’s supporters were unable to override the vetoes.

Opponents of HB 1578 say home-schoolers don’t have to meet the same academic standards as public-school students, so it would not be right to let them play alongside regular students in high school sports.

McAuliffe cited that rationale when he vetoed Bell’s legislation last spring.

“Opening participation in those competitions to individuals who are not required to satisfy the same criteria upends Virginia’s extracurricular framework and codifies academic inequality in interscholastic competition,” the governor wrote in his veto message.

Bell counters that this is not the case with his newest iteration of the bill.

Under the legislation, any student who wants to participate in a local high school’s athletic programs would have to pass standardized tests and demonstrate “evidence of progress” in their academic curriculum for at least two years. Bell said the students also would have to meet the same immunization standards as their public-school counterparts.

Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, argues that, in his experience, it wouldn’t be fair to students who already participate in their high school’s athletic programs.

“I played high school athletics,” Petersen said. “I know a little bit about it. I know you have to have a certain GPA to play on Friday nights. I know you had to basically comply with classroom conduct rules in order to play, and I think those are good rules. They’re good rules for kids, and that’s what this is about.”

Bell’s bill also states that each local school district would get to decide for itself whether to allow home-schoolers to participate in high school sports. Districts that consider such a policy as unfair would not be forced to allow home-schoolers to participate.

Petersen argued that this caveat would create more problems than it would help solve.

“The bottom line is, once Virginia High School League changes its policy, every school division is going to have to match up with it, because nobody is going to want to compete with half a loaf,” he said. “I’ve got some coaches in the audience that are here for state-winning championship teams, and I know what they would say, not on the merits of the bill, but simply that everyone has to play by the same set of rules.”

“You can’t have one set of rules down-state, one set of rules in Northern Virginia and one set of rules in Hampton Roads,” Petersen added. “The bottom line is, if we’re going to have this, it’s got to be a state-wide policy. It can’t be halfway.”

Bell argued his bill would simply allow home-schooled students who might not fit the typical public-school mold the same freedoms as all other students.

“If you are a parent and your kid doesn’t fit into the public-school curriculum right now, you can go private or you can go home-schooling, except many places, including a county I represent, have very limited private school options,” Bell said. “Yet we’re forcing parents to say, ‘You can have football, or you can have the education that you want.’”

How they voted

Here is how the Senate voted Monday on HB 1578 (“Students who receive home instruction; participation in interscholastic programs (Tebow Bill)”).

Floor 02/13/2017 Senate: Passed Senate: (22-Y 18-N)

YEAS – Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Hanger, Lewis, McDougle, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel, Wagner – 22.

NAYS – Barker, Dance, Deeds, Ebbin, Edwards, Favola, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, McPike, Petersen, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell, Wexton – 18.

Bill lets domestic violence victims carry concealed guns

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Victims of domestic violence would get early access to concealed handgun permits under a bill approved Monday by the state Senate.

HB 1852 would allow those with protective orders to carry a concealed handgun after they apply for a permit. It was introduced by a Republican coalition of delegates including Todd Gilbert of Shenandoah County, Nick Freitas of Culpeper, Rick Morris of Suffolk, Ron Villanueva of Virginia Beach and Michael Webert of Fauquier County.

The bill was passed by the Senate Monday on a 27-13 vote after approval by the House of Delegates on Feb. 3. It will now be sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe to seek the governor’s signature. McAuliffe vetoed similar legislation last year and plans to do the same with this iteration, according to Sam Coleman, an aide.

Under current Virginia law, it is illegal to carry concealed handguns until a permit is granted – a process that can take up to 45 days after the application is filed. Gilbert said that, for the victims of abuse, that time can be the difference between life and death.

To address the issue, the bill would allow those with protective orders to carry a concealed handgun for up to 45 days without a permit as long as they have applied for one. Gilbert said this would give victims of abuse a means to defend themselves from their attackers.

“The essence of this is that we want to empower people, especially women, who find themselves in a position where they are in fear of their lives, to be able to protect themselves in a manner that they see fit,” he said.

Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, argued the bill would lead to unintended circumstances that could put victims in even greater danger.

“We already have a victim who’s vulnerable and very concerned and anxious, and we’re going to allow this person to bypass whatever requirements we might have for concealed handgun permits – one of which is training – to go ahead and get the gun,” she said.

“We should base public policy on evidence-based research. Folks who have studied this issue, folks who have advocated for the rights of women, folks who have spent many years evaluating domestic violence situations tell us that it is not wise to interject more firearms into a situation that is already volatile,” Favola added. “In fact, when a firearm exists in a situation of domestic violence, it’s actually the woman who is five times more likely to die.”

Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel, R-Winchester, argued this bill would not introduce a firearm into a situation where it wouldn’t have already existed, but that it would instead give victims greater freedom to protect themselves by carrying concealed.

“I would just like to point out that in this circumstance, a victim can already open carry if they are lawfully allowed,” she said. “In this case, this would simply allow them, in that window of time where they are most vulnerable, to conceal carry. I just want to make that point because I think sometimes people overlook that piece of this, and I think that’s an important measure.”

How they voted

Here is how the Senate voted Monday on HB 1852 (“Concealed handguns; protective orders”).

Floor: 02/13/17 Senate: Passed Senate with substitute (27-Y 13-N)

YEAS – Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, Dance, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Edwards, Hanger, Lewis, McDougle, McPike, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Petersen, Reeves, Ruff, Saslaw, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel, Wagner – 27.

NAYS – Barker, Deeds, Ebbin, Favola, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, Mason, McClellan, Spruill, Surovell, Wexton – 13.

Senate OKs bill to expand concealed handgun permits

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia Senate has approved a bill that would allow members of the military to apply for and receive concealed handgun permits at age 18.

House Bill 1582, introduced by Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Marion, passed the Senate by a vote of 24-15 on Wednesday. It originally passed the House of Delegates on a 78-19 vote on Jan. 18.

The bill now goes to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature. McAuliffe has not announced his stance on the legislation. He will review it once the bill reaches his desk, according to Sam Coleman, a press aide.

If signed into law, the bill would allow active-duty members of the military and those with honorable discharges between the ages of 18 and 21 to receive concealed handgun permits, provided they have completed basic training. Under current Virginia law, no one under the age of 21 is eligible for a permit.

While it is currently illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase a handgun from a licensed firearm dealer, Virginians between the ages of 18 and 21 can legally buy a handgun in a private sale or receive one as a gift.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, cited that reason in opposing the bill during its discussion on the House floor last month.

“We don’t think it’s smart to let 18- and 19- and 20-year-olds who can’t legally purchase a firearm from carrying concealed,” he said when the bill was debated.

Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, disagreed with Simon’s characterization.

“I see no harm at all in trusting young men and women who were ready to give their lives for our freedom” to have a concealed handgun permit, he said.

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, echoed Lingamfelter’s statements.

“We don’t seem to have any problem putting a gun in their hands when they’re going to go overseas to get shot at,” he said. “So this whole idea that we can’t trust them when they come back to exercise the very constitutional amendment they went overseas to defend seems a little bit ridiculous to me.”

Campbell also said the bill would increase concealed-handgun permit reciprocity with other states.

Currently, Virginia permits are recognized throughout the Southeast except in Georgia. Campbell said his bill would change that by “removing the sole impediment to recognition of Virginia concealed carry permit holders by the state of Georgia,” thereby granting permit holders full passage throughout the southern I-95 corridor.

“As a practical matter, this is a good bill for those of us who like to travel out of state on the East Coast,” Lingamfelter said.

Campbell said the bill is another step toward his party’s goal of concealed handgun permit reciprocity across all 50 states. Currently, Virginia permits are recognized in 32 states.

Simon said he feared that in expanding reciprocity, Virginia may be headed down a slippery slope.

“We’re going to have to lower our standards in state after state after state to make sure that our laws are just as generous to concealed carry permit holders and that we have the lowest standards of any state in the country,” Simon said. “It is the first step in having us liberalize our concealed carry permits to go to the lowest common denominator.”

Permit reciprocity has been a hot-button issue among Virginia officials over the past year. In December 2015, Attorney General Mark Herring revoked Virginia’s permit reciprocity agreements with 25 states.

However, during its 2016 session, the General Assembly passed legislation reversing Herring’s decision and restoring all previous reciprocity agreements.

Since the election of President Donald Trump, the issue of permit reciprocity has risen to prominence at the federal level.

Last month, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., introduced HR 38, otherwise known as the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, to the 115th Congress.

Hudson’s proposal would force all 50 states to recognize permits from all other states. The bill is awaiting hearing in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

How they voted:

Here is how the Senate voted Wednesday on HB 1582 (“Concealed handgun permits; age requirement for persons on active military duty”).

Floor: 02/08/17 Senate: Passed Senate (24-Y 15-N)

YEAS – Black, Carrico, Chafin, Chase, Cosgrove, DeSteph, Dunnavant, Edwards, Hanger, Lewis, Mason, McDougle, McPike, Newman, Norment, Obenshain, Peake, Reeves, Ruff, Stanley, Stuart, Sturtevant, Suetterlein, Vogel – 24.

NAYS – Barker, Dance, Deeds, Ebbin, Favola, Howell, Locke, Lucas, Marsden, McClellan, Petersen, Saslaw, Spruill, Surovell, Wexton – 15.

NOT VOTING – Wagner – 1.

Bill lets domestic violence victims carry concealed guns

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The House of Delegates approved a bill Friday that would allow victims of domestic violence access to concealed handguns before being approved for a permit.

HB 1852 would allow people with protective orders to carry a concealed handgun as long as they apply for a permit. It was introduced by a Republican coalition of delegates including Todd Gilbert of Shenandoah County, Nick Freitas of Culpeper, Rick Morris of Suffolk County, Ron Villanueva of Virginia Beach and Michael Webert of Fauquier County.

Under current Virginia law, it is illegal to carry concealed handguns until a permit is granted – a process that can take up to 45 days after the application is filed. Gilbert said that, for victims of abuse, that time can be the difference between life and death.

The bill would allow those with protective orders to carry a concealed handgun for up to 45 days without a permit as long as they have applied for one. Gilbert said this would give victims of abuse a means to defend themselves from their attackers.

“The essence of this is that we want to empower people, especially women, who find themselves in a position where they are in fear of their lives, to be able to protect themselves in a manner that they see fit,” he said.

However, Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, argued that the bill would have unintended consequences that could put victims in even greater danger.

“No one wants to protect victims of domestic violence more than I, but one of the things that people tell me that practice in this area is that, increasingly, the abusers are seeking to muck with the system, are seeking to seek protective orders,” Levine said. “The judge issues the protective order, and then, even if it’s prohibited under federal law … the clerk simply sees the order and the guy can now concealed carry and can do a lot of damage.”

Gilbert responded by stating the bill would do little to empower those already set on violence.

“There is this constant fallacy that we see from the anti-gun side of the aisle that people will be deterred by some new misdemeanor or some new rule or some new sign up at one of our state buildings that says, ‘No guns allowed if you mean to do mass murder in here,’” Gilbert said. He added that the bill is “not going to empower those who mean to do other people harm; it’s going to empower people against those who are going to do that very harm.”

Levine argued that the mere presence of a firearm in a domestic violence dispute could lead to disaster for victims.

“I should also note that guns are not the answer to these domestic violence situations,” Levine said. “Studies show that a gun in the home increases the risk of death by 500 percent. Five times. Part of the reason, I think, is that people, particularly women in these situations, are less likely to use guns against someone they love than a stranger. So, unfortunately, they’re often used against themselves.”

Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, said it wasn’t a politician’s place to tell victims how they can or cannot protect themselves.

“What’s extraordinary about the opposition to this bill is the condescension,” Bell said. “All we’re doing is trying to give some women the liberty to use a concealed carry when they get their protective order.

“Now, let’s assume (Del. Levine) is right and that it’s not right for many – maybe even most – maybe 80 percent would not want it, don’t need it, shouldn’t have it. That leaves a huge percentage of women who are saying, ‘Please, let me do it.’ And, with respect, some people are saying, ‘Now listen little lady, we know better than you what’s right for you.’”

Gilbert introduced similar legislation last year that would have allowed victims of domestic violence to receive a concealed handgun permit without the required training. That iteration passed both chambers before it was vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe last spring.

HB 1852 was passed by a 64-31 vote on the House floor Friday and now heads to the Senate for further consideration.

How they voted

Here is how the House of Delegates voted Friday on HB 1852 (“Concealed handguns; protective orders”).

Floor: 02/03/17  House: VOTE: PASSAGE #2 (64-Y 31-N)

YEAS – Adams, Albo, Anderson, Austin, Bell, Richard P., Bell, Robert B., Bloxom, Byron, Campbell, Cline, Cole, Cox, Davis, Dudenhefer, Edmunds, Fariss, Farrell, Freitas, Garrett, Gilbert, Habeeb, Head, Helsel, Heretick, Hodges, Holcomb, Hugo, Ingram, Jones, Kilgore, Knight, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, LeMunyon, Lingamfelter, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, Miller, Minchew, Miyares, Morris, Mullin, O’Bannon, O’Quinn, Orrock, Peace, Pillion, Pogge, Poindexter, Ransone, Robinson, Rush, Stolle, Villanueva, Ware, Webert, Wilt, Wright, Yancey, Yost, Speaker Howell – 64.

NAYS – Aird, Bagby, Bell, John J., Boysko, Bulova, Carr, Filler-Corn, Hayes, Herring, Hester, Hope, James, Keam, Kory, Krizek, Levine, Lindsey, Lopez, McQuinn, Murphy, Plum, Price, Rasoul, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Watts – 31.

NOT VOTING – Collins, Fowler, Greason, Morefield – 4.

‘Left-lane bandits’ may face $250 fine

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The House of Delegates has approved a bill that would impose a mandatory $250 fine for driving too slowly in the left lane on highways.

HB 2201was introduced by Del. Israel O’Quinn, R-Bristol, and co-sponsored by Democrats Del. Kaye Kory of Falls Church and Sen. Scott Surovell of Fairfax to show bipartisan support for the measure. O’Quinn said this is something that affects all Virginians, regardless of which side of the aisle they align themselves with.

“It doesn’t matter which corner of the commonwealth you come from,” he said when addressing the bill on the House floor Monday. “It doesn’t matter which interstate or four-lane highway that you have going through the districts you represent. I guarantee you are going to encounter this many times, even if you’re on the highways for just a few minutes.”

“Left lane bandits,” as they are often known, have become a “particularly pervasive and ever-growing problem” on Virginia roadways, O’Quinn said.

Under current Virginia law, driving in the left lane is illegal except when passing or when it is deemed “otherwise impractical,” but there is no fine for failing to obey the law. O’Quinn said that, for the safety of all Virginian drivers, he hopes to change that.

“I consulted with a lot of law enforcement officers, first responders, et cetera, about this, and every single one of them, without fail, had some sort of story where they ran up on a car who’s going grossly under the speed limit in the left lane, which then required them to have to attempt to pass on the right, which is not legal nor safe,” O’Quinn said. “A number of close calls and a few accidents, in fact, have occurred from that.”

O’Quinn also said that, in addition to helping curb dangerous high-speed accidents, the bill would help decrease road rage incidents on Virginia’s highways.

“This is also something that is one of the leading causes of road rage – which certainly, I am not condoning by any stretch – but it’s something that law enforcement officers many times can point back to as the root of a number of road rage incidents,” O’Quinn said.

He added that he and his co-sponsors are not trying to change traffic laws, but rather help drivers understand the dangers of disobeying lane rules.

“I’m not trying to mess with the definition of what it means to pass on the left or stay in the right lane or any of that stuff,” he added. “But, simply put, a penalty behind it shows that we understand the seriousness behind it and that we’re going to be serious about actually enforcing it.”

The House voted 66-31 for final passage of the bill on Tuesday. It now goes to the Senate for further consideration.

How they voted

Here is how the House voted Tuesday on HB 2201 (“Failure to drive on right side of highways or observe traffic lanes; increases penalties”).

Floor: 01/31/17 House: VOTE: PASSAGE (66-Y 31-N)

YEAS – Adams, Anderson, Austin, Bell, John J., Bell, Richard P., Byron, Campbell, Cline, Collins, Cox, Davis, Dudenhefer, Edmunds, Farrell, Fowler, Freitas, Gilbert, Greason, Habeeb, Hayes, Head, Helsel, Heretick, Herring, Hester, Hodges, Holcomb, Hope, Ingram, James, Jones, Kilgore, Knight, Krizek, Landes, LaRock, Leftwich, LeMunyon, Lindsey, Lingamfelter, Lopez, Loupassi, Marshall, D.W., Marshall, R.G., Massie, Miller, Minchew, Morris, O’Bannon, O’Quinn, Orrock, Peace, Pillion, Plum, Ransone, Rasoul, Rush, Stolle, Villanueva, Ware, Watts, Webert, Wright, Yancey, Yost, Speaker Howell – 66.

NAYS – Aird, Albo, Bagby, Bell, Robert B., Bloxom, Boysko, Bulova, Carr, Cole, Filler-Corn, Garrett, Hugo, Keam, Kory, Levine, McQuinn, Miyares, Mullin, Murphy, Pogge, Poindexter, Price, Robinson, Sickles, Simon, Sullivan, Torian, Toscano, Tyler, Ward, Wilt – 31.

NOT VOTING – Fariss, Morefield – 2.

Democrats and Republicans Join Forces at Capitol Classic

By Tyler Woodall and Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Virginia government officials participated in the ninth annual Massey Capitol Classic Challenge on Tuesday night at Virginia Commonwealth University.

While Democrats and Republicans often are at odds at the state Capitol, members of the Senate and House of Delegates from both sides of the aisle fought for the same cause at the Stuart C. Siegel Center. Adding to the night’s light-hearted feel, the legislators were joined by former NBA center Ben Wallace, NASCAR driver Elliott Sadler and former VCU Ram and second round NBA draft pick Calvin Duncan.

The atmosphere was electric, as raucous choruses from VCU’s Peppas pep band and Henrico High School’s Marching Warriors echoed throughout the arena.

However, in the shadow of VCU’s 2011 Final Four banner, the action on the court was far from the level normally seen at The Stu.

Although the night was filled with air balls and turnovers, the sloppy play got the job done, as the night’s festivities helped raise more than $23,000 for VCU’s Massey Cancer Center. The largest donations came from Ben and Chandra Wallace, the CSX Corporation, the Sadler family and Capitol lobbyists.

The night’s festivities kicked off in front of a crowd of several hundred as the governor’s staff took on Capitol lobbyists. The lobbyists ultimately took home the bragging rights after winning 45-34.

Shortly after, the Senate won the night’s All-Star Shootout by a commanding 81-19 final score. However, the senators’ joy was short-lived as they were unable to bring that same lights-out shooting to the night’s premiere event.

The House, led by Del. Sam Rasoul, D-Roanoke, came out of the gates with the hot hand, taking a commanding 16-5 halftime lead. However, the first half’s action was less-than-stellar, and one announcer quipped, “That’s 15 minutes we’ll never get back.”

The second half was much of the same, with the exception of Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax, who came out of the huddle looking to carry his team back from the brink. However, Petersen’s efforts were not enough to carry his Senate colleagues past Sadler and Rasoul-led House.

At the final buzzer, the House came out with a commanding 31-17 victory, with Rasoul being named the game’s MVP.

Rasoul said he was happy to take home the honor in front of the friendly crowd and, for once, to join hands with his opponents across the aisle.

“It was great we got to have a good time and do it all for a good cause,” he said. “The one thing I love about this event is, it’s bipartisan. It’s House vs. Senate, and the more we can do in a bipartisan way, the more fun it is.”

Sadler, who helped Rasoul carry the House to victory Tuesday night, said he relished the opportunity to play at The Stu.

“I could’ve performed a little bit better, but the main thing is it’s for a great cause,” Sadler said. “I’ve been here to watch the Rams play, and it’s neat to be able to come here and play on this floor for such a good cause.”

After taking a moment to let it sink in, he added, “I think I’m undefeated on this floor right now, so that’s pretty cool.”

House of Delegates OKs ‘Tebow Bill’

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill Tuesday that would allow home-schooled students to participate in high school sports and other extracurricular activities.

HB 1578, commonly known as the “Tebow Bill” after former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, passed by a 60-38 vote on the House floor Tuesday. The bill will now move to the Senate for consideration.

The proposal, introduced by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, would eliminate a statewide ban prohibiting home-schooled students from participating in high school athletics and other interscholastic activities.

Bell has introduced similar legislation, which is based on laws from other states, perennially since 2005. In 2015 and 2016, Bell’s legislation passed both the House and Senate but was ultimately vetoed by Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Opponents say home-schoolers don’t have to meet the same academic standards as public school students, so it wouldn’t be right to let them play alongside regular students in high school sports.

McAuliffe cited that rationale when he vetoed Bell’s legislation last spring.

“Opening participation in those competitions to individuals who are not required to satisfy the same criteria upends Virginia’s extracurricular framework and codifies academic inequality in interscholastic competition,” the governor wrote in his veto message.

Bell counters that this is not the case with his latest iteration of the bill.

Under the legislation, students who want to participate in their local high school’s athletic programs would have to pass standardized tests and demonstrate “evidence of progress” in their academic curriculum for at least two years. Bell said the home-schoolers also would have to meet the same immunization standards as their public school counterparts.

Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, shared her concerns about the bill on the House floor Tuesday.

“As a former school board member and parent of a child who spent a significant number of years in private school, I’m always hesitant to see us move in this direction,” McQuinn said.

“Take my nephew, for instance. As a star basketball player, he says he has sacrificed and put many years and extraordinary determination into reaching his current playing level. Yet if a home-schooling (student) is granted the same exposure and resources, it goes without saying that they reap the same benefit after investing a highly disproportionate amount of time.”

Bell argued that his bill simply allows home-schooled students who might not fit the typical public school mold the same freedoms as all other students.

“If you are a parent and your kid doesn’t fit into the public school curriculum right now, you can go private or you can go home-schooling – except many places, including a county I represent, have very limited private school options,” Bell said. “Yet we’re forcing parents to say, ‘You can have football, or you can have the education that you want.’”

McQuinn said the bill was not a matter of equality, but rather the opposite.

“What message does this send to public school parents and students?” she asked. “One of fairness or favorability? While public schools present their own unique challenges, some more difficult than others, I believe the passing of this bill would add another dimension of complication to the public school system.”

Bell said that was not the case. Under the legislation, the decision to allow home-schoolers to participate in high school sports would come down to the local school district. Each individual school board would be able to decide for itself.

McQuinn countered that allowing the localities to decide brings its own set of problems.

“There are implications with making this a local school board issue as well,” she said. “If a school division allows home-schooled students and another does not, there would be cases where teams would have to make a decision to forfeit a game. This kind of policy breeds division, brings fairness into question and creates inconsistencies across individual schools.”

Virginia Legislators Sound off on Trump Inauguration

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Several members of the Virginia House of Delegates spoke out Monday in regards to the events surrounding the inauguration of Donald Trump over the weekend.

Members from both sides of the aisle made their voices heard, both in support and opposition of the 45th president and the activities that engulfed his inauguration weekend.

Del. Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, alluded to the events as a teachable moment for America’s youth.

“As a government teacher … I had a real passion for my students to understand what an incredibly unique representative democracy this was,” Cox said on the House floor Monday. “I thought of that on Friday when we saw one of the things I think is one of the greatest things we do, and that’s the transition of power.”

However, Cox was quick to voice his displeasure over both Trump’s Democratic opposition and those who took to the streets of Washington, D.C., to protest over the weekend.

“I’d be less than candid if I didn’t say I was disappointed in the 67 Democratic congressmen that did not attend,” Cox said. “I was probably even more disappointed with some of the violent protests I saw. I thought that it was bad for the country and, frankly, probably kept some of those good folks from various parts of the country from attending.”

Cox also used his platform as a call to action for his colleagues on both sides of the aisle. He referred to recent remarks delivered by Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News.

“I was reflecting on a speech that Del. Price gave last week,” he said. “I think we all need to look at other people’s perspectives, and I really took to heart when she said that for her, her grandmother and, I think, for so many others, what President Obama’s presidency meant. I thought that was very well said. And so, having said that, I think it’s crucial that whether you did or did not support President Trump, that he’s our president and we need to pray for his success, success for Americans and Virginia’s success.”

Del. David Toscano, D-Charlottesville, agreed with Cox’s call to support the new president but warned against doing so blindly.

“I, too, share (Del. Cox’s) support for the notion of a smooth transition of political power in this country. I think that’s what distinguishes our country from many other countries around the globe,” Toscano said.

But he added, “Be careful before you walk down the road with President Trump. He is our president, and we have an obligation to support him, but we also have an obligation to tell him he is wrong when he is wrong.”

Toscano cited the administration’s stances on repealing the Affordable Care Act and a reported freeze on federal government hiring as two examples where Americans need to remain vigilant.

“In these two instances – ACA and freezes on federal employment – he is wrong, and we should stand up for those principles,” he said.

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpepper, was quick to address Toscano’s claims.

“I actually agree with some of the comments from (Del. Toscano),” Freitas said, “and I have to say that if President Trump accomplishes nothing more than once again reinvigorating the Democrats’ passion for the Fourth, Fifth, Ninth and Tenth Amendments to the Constitution, he will achieve more than I ever thought possible in my lifetime.”

Freitas, like Cox, also expressed his disdain over the weekend’s protests.

“As I looked at the violent riots that broke out – probably by a bunch of people with ‘coexist’ bumper stickers on their cars – at the inauguration, I couldn’t believe it,” he said. “These are some of the same people that are constantly lecturing us on tolerance and diversity and getting along, and the moment there’s an election result they don’t like, we’re setting things on fire and throwing bricks through windows.”

Freitas compared the protesters with what he characterized as the oppressive regulations of his opponents across the aisle.

“When it comes to things like Obamacare and when it comes to a lot of these other government-imposed programs that don’t require voluntary cooperation, they use coercion. If it’s such a good idea, why does it always require government force to implement on an otherwise free people?” Freitas asked.

“I think that’s a fair question to ask, because at the end of the day, coexistence is not a bumper sticker you put on your car. Coexistence is resisting the urge to coerce those whom you can’t convince. I think we need to be a little bit more cognizant of that.”

However, Freitas concluded by reiterating Toscano’s point on holding government accountable.

“I, for one, hope this administration will rely more on free people to resolve their problems through voluntary association as opposed to a top-down Washington, D.C., approach for everything,” he said. “I commit to holding the administration, even though it’s my party, accountable to that end.”

House Gives ‘Tebow Bill’ Preliminary Approval

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia House of Delegates gave tentative approval Monday to a bill that would allow home-schooled students to participate in high school sports.

HB 1578, widely known as the “Tebow Bill” after former University of Florida and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow, would give home-schoolers the ability to participate in high school sports and other interscholastic activities. The bill is on the House calendar for final approval Tuesday.

Sponsored by Del. Rob Bell, R-Charlottesville, the bill is modeled after laws in other states. Bell has perennially introduced the legislation since 2005. In 2015 and 2016, Bell’s bills passed the General Assembly and were sent to Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who vetoed them.

Virginia High School League rules currently prohibit home-schoolers from participating in high school sports after eighth grade. Bell said he wants to change that.

Bell described his bill as a “chance to try out” the idea. If passed, the law would “sunset” on July 1, 2022, thus requiring the General Assembly to revisit the issue in five years.

Under the proposal, local school boards would get to decide whether to allow home-schoolers to participate in their school’s athletic programs. School districts would not be required to do so.

In addition, Bell said his bill contains several provisions that would prevent it from being abused to circumvent academic ineligibility.

First, students would be required to play for the school in their home district; they could not choose where to play.

Students who want to participate in their local school’s athletics would be required to pass standardized tests and other requirements for at least two consecutive years. They also would have to meet all immunization requirements necessary to play high school sports.

Schools would be allowed to charge students “reasonable fees” to cover the costs of participation, thereby easing the burden on taxpayers, Bell said.

The issue rose to national prominence in 2007 when ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” featured Tebow and several other home-schooled students across the country seeking access to high school athletics.

Thanks to legislation passed in his home state in 1996, Tebow was allowed to play football at Jacksonville’s Trinity Christian Academy and, later, at nearby Allen D. Nease High School, where he was eventually named a high school All-American.

Since then, Tebow and former NFL defensive end Jason Taylor, who also played high school football while being home-schooled in Pennsylvania, have campaigned across the country to advocate for laws allowing home-schoolers to play for their local high schools.

In 2008, Tebow received the Quaqua Protégé Award as an “outstanding home-education graduate” for his work.

House OKs Bill to Ease Rule on Concealed Gun Permits

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – The Virginia House of Delegates approved a bill Wednesday to allow members of the military to obtain concealed handgun permits at age 18.

HB 1582, introduced by Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Marion, passed by a vote of 78-19. It will now go to the Senate for consideration.

The bill would allow active-duty military personnel and those with an honorable discharge between the ages of 18 and 20 to receive concealed handgun permits, provided they have completed basic training. The current minimum age for a concealed handgun permit is 21.

Under federal law, it is illegal for anyone under 21 to purchase a handgun from a licensed firearm dealer. However, Virginians between 18 and 20 can legally buy a handgun in a private sale or receive one as a gift.

Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, cited that reason in opposing the bill.

“We don’t think it’s smart to let 18- and 19- and 20-year-olds who can’t legally purchase a firearm from carrying concealed,” he said when the bill was debated Tuesday.

Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, disagreed.

“I see no harm at all in trusting young men and women who were ready to give their lives for our freedom” to have a concealed handgun permit, he said.

Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpepper, echoed Lingamfelter.

“We don’t seem to have any problem putting a gun in their hands when they’re going to go overseas to get shot at,” he said. “So this whole idea that we can’t trust them when they come back to exercise the very constitutional amendment they went overseas to defend seems a little bit ridiculous to me.”

Campbell said the bill also would increase concealed handgun permit reciprocity with other states.

Currently, Virginia permits are recognized throughout the Southeast except in Georgia. Campbell said his bill would change that by “removing the sole impediment to recognition of Virginia concealed carry permit holders by the state of Georgia,” thereby granting permit holders full passage throughout the southern I-95 corridor.

“As a practical matter, this is a good bill for those of us who like to travel out of state on the East Coast,” Lingamfelter said.

Campbell said the bill is another step toward his party’s goal of concealed handgun permit reciprocity across all 50 states. Currently, Virginia permits are recognized in 32 states.

Simon said he fears that in expanding reciprocity, Virginia may be headed down a slippery slope.

“We’re going to have to lower our standards in state after state after state to make sure that our laws are just as generous to concealed carry permit holders and that we have the lowest standards of any state in the country,” Simon said. “It is the first step in having us liberalize our concealed carry permits to go to the lowest common denominator.”

Permit reciprocity has been a hot-button issue among Virginia officials. In December 2015, Attorney General Mark Herring revoked Virginia’s permit reciprocity agreements with 25 states.

However, during its 2016 session, the General Assembly passed legislation reversing Herring’s decision and restoring all previous reciprocity agreements.

With Donald Trump’s election as president, the issue of permit reciprocity has risen to prominence at the federal level. This month, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., introduced the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017 in Congress.

Hudson’s proposal would force all 50 states to recognize permits from all other states. The bill is awaiting hearing in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.

House Panel Shoots Down Ban on Guns in Libraries

Richmond Public Library Board Chair Gail Zwirner addresses the committee in favor of HB1418

By Nick Versaw, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – A House subcommittee shot down a bill Thursday to allow libraries owned or operated by local governments to ban firearms from their premises.

On a 4-1 voice vote, Subcommittee No. 1 of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee recommended tabling HB 1418. The bill, proposed by Del. Delores McQuinn, D-Richmond, sought to allow localities to adopt ordinances to prohibit the carrying firearms in public libraries.

“The (library) staff strongly feels that a library should be used as a reading circle and that schools and libraries are inappropriate places to openly carry firearms,” McQuinn said. “We know that a lot of times accidents are waiting to happen, and God forbid that happens in a public library.”

Tanya Francis, a resident of Richmond’s North Side and a Richmond Public Library board member, echoed McQuinn’s statements.

“We have to have these laws place in order to hold these people accountable if something were to happen,” Francis said. “We have a law to cover the schools, and to me, the library is an extension of the school. This law would capture that.”

Lori Haas, Virginia state director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, also spoke in favor of the bill.

“Gun homicides in Richmond, Roanoke, Portsmouth, Newport News and other localities are on the rise,” Haas said. “There are certain circumstances where we need to give localities some control over innovative ways to deal with gun violence.”

Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Woodstock, questioned Haas’s statement. Gilbert, a member of the subcommittee, said he believes McQuinn’s bill would do little to combat gun violence, asserting that it would “not stop those bent on homicide.”

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, joined Gilbert in opposition.

“It is a bill in search of a problem,” Van Cleave said. “We haven’t been having problems in libraries. (The Citizens Defense League) holds meetings in libraries, and it’s always been well accommodated. It’s a public meeting place.”

He said such laws would be a step backward for the state.

“If we let localities start deciding on their own to ban guns, we’re back to the bad old days, prior to 2004, where a gun owner had to have a map of every locality to try to figure out where he could or couldn’t carry a gun,” he said.

“It’s so much better now. It’s nice and clean, and people can learn the gun laws and not worry about breaking them when they travel around the state.”

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