Response to Attorney General’s decision on concealed handgun permits

Response to Attorney General’s decision on concealed handgun permits

Happy New Year,

I have received a number of emails objecting to the ruling by Attorney General (AG) Mark Herring in regard to out of state concealed weapon permits not being recognized in Virginia if they do not meet the same higher standards as ours. Four states meet those standards and 25 do not. The AG is enforcing existing Virginia law (http://law.lis.virginia.gov/vacode/title18.2/chapter7/section18.2-308.014/) that requires reciprocity only with states that meet Virginia’s standards. Up until now, my assumption is that this has not been enforced. So, why now?

I have introduced legislation to close the so called “gun show loop-hole” on several occasions. It would require private sellers at commercial gun shows to perform background checks on purchasers similar to those required by federal firearms dealers of their buyers. This measure enjoys overwhelming support by Americans including NRA members but it has yet to clear the legislature in Virginia. Frustrating for lawmakers like me, and most likely the AG, who believe this would have a meaningful impact on public safety. One of the standard arguments against this is, among others, is that we already have numerous laws that we do not enforce. Well the AG has decided to enforce one of them and I agree with his reasoning.

Currently a Virginian could, in some states, apply for and be granted a concealed weapons permit (CPW) that they would not qualify for in Virginia due to a disqualifying mental health record or a history of domestic abuse. That Virginian could then legally carry in Virginia and up until now he or she would not be accountable to the law currently on the books. Many writers on this subject have said that there have not been problems so why is this action being taken. We do have knowledge that there are out of state folks carrying concealed weapons in Virginia who do not qualify under our laws. I believe the AG has taken the position that he must do all he can to protect our citizens. The preferred method for improving public safety is through legislative action. As the current CWP standards and the requirement that other states must have equivalent standards is already law, this is not overreach but might reflect some concern that the legislature has done an inadequate job in requiring background checks for gun purchase.

I support the Second Amendment as our Supreme Court has interpreted it over the years because I am sworn to do so. Recent court rulings in the McDonald and Heller cases have held that gun ownership is an individual right and not a collective (militia) right, but that other laws related to firearms are legal. The Supreme Court has ruled that states have the authority to regulate many aspects of gun ownership and how they are used. Concealed carry is a matter of law, it is not a constitutional right, and is therefore a matter that each state has the authority to determine whether they will allow it and under what circumstances. (See 10th Amendment) Virginia law allows it and I support that. The CWP holders in Virginia have generally not abused the privilege granted under Virginia law and that is because our standards are high. Why would we want to allow irresponsible and potentially dangerous persons to carry concealed weapons in the commonwealth? For me the answer is…. we do not.

I have always tried to be open about my beliefs regarding the management of firearms and welcome my friends who wear the “gun saves lives” stickers to my office every year for a lively discussion. I simply have beliefs that are counter to some of my constituents in this regard.

To wit:

  • Death by firearm is a serious problem that needs to be addressed. We lose, on average, 88 persons per day and 32,000 per year to firearms and untold hospital expense as well. In 2016 I am told that we will exceed 500,000 deaths since the beginning of the 21st
  • I believe that guns are a greater threat to their owners, their families and their neighbors than they have protective value. I will not deny however that CWP does have an impact on reducing certain crimes even though the proliferation of those crimes is based on the easy availability of guns through our generally weak gun laws. The NRA has made an unconscionable shift from gun safety to firearms proliferation. I suppose this has been done to support the gun manufacturers and dealers at the expense of the rank and file NRA member but I know that many of you support this shift that occurred in the 1990’s.
  • People evaluate risk differently. For many, not maximizing personal control over their own safety is unthinkable. The odds against this being an effective strategy, however, are substantial, but it is an individual’s choice to make it under our constitution.
  • Your training and experience with guns makes some difference, but not much. Some gun owners are more responsible than others but none are immune from tragedy. Two friends of mine have accidentally shot themselves. Six Americans were shot by their dogs in the past 5 years. And those were only the victims willing to turn themselves in from this embarrassing occurrence.
  • I have been in the criminal justice and public safety arena for 45 years. That alone means very little but I have been a probation officer, group home director, secure juvenile detention center director, head of our Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice and for the past 13 years engaged with the US Justice Department in assisting them with the management of technical assistance efforts to prevent youth violence all over the country. The degree to which we have polluted our environment with guns and our ineptness at managing their proliferation and distribution has left us in a precarious position. We have created the very environment and fear that leads many to want to have weapons at home or on their person for protection. Like many ill-advised choices in life it may make you feel more secure but puts the rest of us in danger.
  • Look what we have done with automobile safety. Through better standards, laws and enforcement we have reduced these deaths dramatically. In 1948, the year I was born, there were 48,000 people in Fairfax County and 40 traffic deaths. When you run the numbers again after Fairfax County reached 1 million people, guess what……..40 traffic deaths. We can effectively manage firearms just as successfully without violating Second Amendments rights with only a modicum of inconvenience.
  • Better mental health can help, but when I get an email or phone call from an angry and possibly disturbed person regarding gun issues there are no means by which I can call someone to have them examined. Those with mental health issues often do not recognize that they are troubled and rarely seek help for violent ideation.
  • People purchase weapons for good reasons. They assume those reasons will remain constant and sound but unfortunately they do not. Over time, gun owners become susceptible to substance abuse, domestic violence and mental illness. Children can change from loving offspring to disturbed and angry youth, and they know where the family gun is. Spouses can yield to the quick, easy, permanent and tragic solution to depression that guns seem to offer. Two thirds of gun deaths are now suicides.

 

I have spent a lifetime in conversations that begin with “but that gun has been there for years and they never touched it before”. You would not believe what so called “responsible gun owners” are in fact responsible for, that never makes the papers. This story just popped up on my cell phone while I was writing this on New Year’s Eve.  (https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/police-daughter-shot-by-mother-was-visiting-for-holidays/2015/12/30/1d1ac224-af55-11e5-b281-43c0b56f61fa_story.html)

 

What to do?

 

I believe we can do four things.

 

  1. Support our Attorney General. He is doing the right thing to protect public safety and he is enforcing existing Virginia

 

  1. Support me in exploring an Interstate Compact, not involving the federal government, to set high CWP standards that all states could agree on and would be honored by all. We have such an agreement on runaway children so why not on CWP?

 

  1. Consider supporting a bill I am filing this year to strengthen background checks by requiring a permit to purchase a firearm under all circumstances, private or public (gun shows). Just one initial background check to gain a permit with 5 year renewals.

 

  1. Write your Congressman and US Senators and ask that the US Centers for
    Disease Control be allowed to study gun violence as a public safety matter to guide us in our efforts to make wise firearms policy. Information is always a good thing and remember….

 

No one is going to take away your guns!

 

I will always tell you where I stand even if you might disagree. I hope to see you in Richmond at the “Guns Save Lives” event. We have to continue to communicate. There have to be some things we can agree on to reduce danger for all of us.

 

Have a wonderful and safe New Year.

 

Best regards,

Senator Dave Marsden