Republicans in the House of Delegates this week tabled a bill that would make carrying a firearm at state-owned colleges and universities illegal, after the proposed legislation faced pushback from the National Rifle Association.
While that bill was tabled in a 6-3 party-line vote, a bill with identical language has been advancing in the Democrat-controlled state Senate. That legislation, though, is likely to face the same fate if and when it reaches the floor of the GOP-controlled House.
Both bills were crafted with the assistance of the University of Virginia. Both bills also have been directly tied by their authors – Charlottesville’s Democratic Del. Sally Hudson and Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds – to the Nov. 13 shooting at UVa that left student-athletes Devin Chandler, D’Sean Perry and Lavel Davis Jr. dead and two students others injured.
Virginia State Police conducted a search of alleged shooter Christopher Darnell Jones Jr.’s dorm room on Grounds, according to a Nov. 14 search warrant obtained by The Daily Progress. An inventory of the findings included a semi-automatic rifle, a pistol, ammunition, a pair of Glock 9-millimeter magazines and a device used to make bullets fire faster.
UVa policy already bans firearms and other weapons from Grounds with exemptions for individuals who need weapons to perform their jobs including law enforcement officers, official military and university-contracted security.
“But those policies don’t currently carry the full force of the law,” Hudson said in Richmond on Thursday, introducing her bill to the House Public Safety Subcommittee. “And, as a result, they leave law enforcement without the authority they need to enforce these policies.”
Hudson was joined Thursday by an emotional UVa Police Chief Timothy Longo, who said having such policies codified in state law will make it easier for law enforcement to respond to firearm violations at Virginia’s public colleges and universities.
Hudson and Deeds’ bills would make carrying a firearm on school grounds a Class 1 misdemeanor and allow university law enforcement to obtain a search warrant when it believes firearms are being possessed illegally in university buildings.
State law already prohibits the possession of firearms in other government-owned buildings, such as the state Capitol, Longo pointed out.
“We care enough about the people who come here and who work here to protect them in special ways,” said Longo in Richmond. “I didn’t have that opportunity on the evening of Nov. 13 or any day before then.”
Longo, raising his voice, touched on the Nov. 13 shooting.
“I don’t know if it would have changed the outcome of that night,” Longo told the committee. “But I do know this, if this place is sensitive, if someone can’t go into a bar with a concealed weapons permit and drink a beer, then what makes it OK to come into a dormitory on the Grounds of the University of Virginia with a gun?”
“Right now,” Hudson said, “under the current state of affairs, you’re relying on people like me, teachers who you want teaching math, to be the people who are out there policing university policy.”
Andrew Goddard, president of the Virginia Center for Public Safety and an advocate for strengthening the commonwealth’s gun laws, came out in support of the bill before the committee on Thursday, citing historical precedent.
“I’d like to point out before the University of Virginia even opened there was a board meeting attended by Thomas Jefferson,” Goddard told the committee. “And he and the board decided there would be no alcohol, other than perhaps beer, and no firearms on the University of Virginia’s campus.”
“I think we need to go back to that,” Goddard said.
Opponents were more direct in their arguments.
“It creates a new gun-free zone without doing enough to protect and secure the facilities that we’re talking about,” D.J. Spiker, a lobbyist for the NRA, told the committee before promptly returning to his seat.
Republicans on the committee voted to table the bill on Thursday.
A bill “laid on the table” can be reconsidered prior to the deadline established by the procedural resolution that sets the schedule for consideration of bills. However, it is still unlikely that a tabled bill will be brought up again for consideration.
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