RICHMOND — A package of bills tied to Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s surprise gun compromise with Republicans cleared its last legislative hurdle on Monday and headed for the governor’s desk.
McAuliffe (D), who endured fierce pushback over the deal from erstwhile allies in the gun-control movement, promised to sign the bills.
“Today the General Assembly finalized its work on a bipartisan public safety agreement that will save lives,” he said in a written statement. “I look forward to signing this legislation into law.”
The measures expand the rights of concealed-carry handgun permit holders in Virginia in exchange for tighter restrictions on gun ownership by domestic abusers and voluntary background checks at gun shows.
McAuliffe, who ran for governor bragging about his F rating from the National Rifle Association, has billed the deal as a pragmatic compromise on a difficult issue.
But some of his allies in the gun-control movement renewed their criticism. “Governor McAuliffe let his constituents down, striking a deal with the NRA that will allow concealed-carry permit holders from across the country to avoid Virginia’s laws on who can carry hidden, loaded weapons in the commonwealth,” said Jennifer Herrera, Virginia director of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “It was a giveaway to the gun lobby, and as a mother and a Virginian, I expect more from my leaders — and once again urge Governor McAuliffe to veto the concealed-carry bill.”
McAuliffe’s secretary of public safety, Brian Moran, hammered out the compromise with lobbyists for the NRA and one of the group’s chief allies in the legislature, Sen. Bryce E. Reeves (R-Spotsylvania).
The negotiations began after Reeves, often mentioned as a lieutenant governor candidate in 2017, and Sen. J. Chapman “Chap” Petersen (D-Fairfax) approached the governor. Reeves and Petersen were looking for a way to counter action taken by Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D), who had revoked reciprocity rights with 25 states that have looser standards than Virginia.
Their eventual compromise not only reverses Herring’s move but extends reciprocity to every state but Vermont, which does not issue concealed-carry permits.
Gun-rights legislators and activists have roundly cheered the deal — underscoring the feeling among some gun-control advocates that they gave up more than they got.
“This bill not only restores Virginia’s existing concealed-carry reciprocity agreements, but will also expand such agreements with additional states,” Reeves said in a statement.
McAuliffe has said he was willing to expand concealed-carry rights in exchange for prohibiting people convicted of domestic abuse from possessing guns. They will have to give away or sell their guns within 24 hours of conviction but are not required to surrender their weapons to law enforcement. Gun-control advocates said that creates a dangerous loophole, because guns could be given to friends or relatives and then be reclaimed.
McAuliffe has emphasized another aspect of the compromise, which calls for posting a state trooper at every gun show to conduct criminal background checks for private sellers. The checks would remain optional, and critics note that federal law already allows private sellers to run checks through licensed dealers. Moran has said the new procedure will be simpler and quicker.
McAuliffe said the troopers’ attendance will “change the culture at gun shows in Virginia by providing all sellers with access to criminal background checks.”
Everytown for Gun Safety, a gun-control group launched by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg (I), has been especially critical of the compromise, launching a media campaign against McAuliffe in recent weeks.
Just a few months ago, Everytown was so firmly in McAuliffe’s camp that it answered his call for help in the fall Virginia Senate races by bankrolling $2 million in attack ads. Republicans nevertheless held onto the chamber.
The governor has dismissed Everytown’s criticisms by characterizing his former ally as a group of meddling out-of-towners.
On Monday, rather than comment directly, Everytown issued the statement from Herrera of the Moms Demand Action group, an Everytown affiliate. The statement noted that Herrera is a volunteer and a Virginian.
Also weighing in was Jasper Hendricks III, director of Brown Virginia, which he described as a “statewide network of organizations representing people of color.”
“Our voices matter, our lives matter, and our relationship with your administration matters too,” he wrote in a letter to McAuliffe. “It is vital that in this debate you see communities of color as more than just photo opportunity props.”