Republicans in the House of Delegates have killed a bill that would have strengthened gun laws on college campuses in the wake of the deadly Nov. 13 shooting at the University of Virginia.
The proposed law would have made carrying a firearm on school grounds a Class 1 misdemeanor and allow law enforcement to obtain a search warrant when it believes firearms are possessed illegally in university buildings.
The bill passed the state Senate on Feb. 7 in a 23-17 vote, with Republican Emmett W. Hanger Jr. of Mount Solon crossing party lines to vote with the chamber’s Democrats. It was tabled by the House Public Safety Subcommittee in a 6-4 party-line vote on Feb. 9.
“It was a bill that the Republicans were likely to kill anyway,” Democratic state Sen. Creigh Deeds told The Daily Progress on Monday. “I wasn’t shocked at the outcome; I was more so shocked that they didn’t give the courtesy of listening to it.”
Deeds authored the bill with assistance from the University of Virginia and the university’s police department as a direct response to the Nov. 13 shooting that killed student-athletes Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry and injured two others.
Virginia State Police arrested fellow student and former athlete Christopher Darnell Jones Jr. on Nov.14 and charged him with three counts of second-degree murder.
The state police conducted a search of Jones’ 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.
However, university policies do not carry the same weight as codified legislation, according to Timothy Longo, chief of the UVa Police Department. Having such policies codified in state law would make it easier for law enforcement to respond to firearm violations at Virginia’s public colleges and universities, Longo told The Daily Progress when Deeds’ bill was first introduced.
“When such issues fall within the purview of our criminal statutes, the full range of Fourth Amendment satisfaction is available, and matters that could pose public safety risks are not left to administrators,” Longo said shortly after Deeds’ bill was introduced.
“UVa really was trying to do an internal look and this idea basically bubbled up from within UVa,” Deeds said on Monday. “This is something that could put one in jeopardy of going to jail or having a fine, so they felt like this would be a bigger deterrent for someone to bring a gun onto the grounds or on the school property.”
Longo worked with Deeds on his bill in the Senate and with Democratic Del. Sally Hudson on an identical bill introduced in the House.
Hudson’s bill was also was tabled by Republicans on the House Public Safety Subcommittee on Jan. 26 shortly after introduction.
Both Hudson’s and Deeds’ bills faced pushback from the National Rifle Association.
D.J. Spiker, a lobbyist for the NRA present the day Hudson’s bill was tabled, said the legislation “creates a new gun-free zone without doing enough to protect and secure the facilities that we’re talking about.”
“This bill was a reasonable request from the University of Virginia,” Deeds said on Monday. “This bill had the support of law enforcement and it would have protected lives. While it did not pass, I remain committed to making this policy change.”