RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and GOP legislative leaders struck deal last week on an issue on which they have never seen eye to eye: guns. The most surprising part of all was that it reversed action that Attorney General Mark R. Herring (D) had taken just last month to sever reciprocity rights of gun owners in 25 states with concealed-weapons standards looser than Virginia’s.
Although McAuliffe and the GOP had privately agreed to portray the deal as a win for both sides, the reactions from activists differed starkly. The gun-rights camp hailed it as a major victory, while the gun-safety camp said it had been betrayed.
Here’s what you need to know about the deal as the controversy enters its second week:
Does this deal expand gun rights?
Yes. The deal goes beyond restoring the reciprocity rights that Herring had planned to revoke, directing him to strike reciprocity deals with every state that offers them. If the legislature approves the deal, more out-of-state gun owners will be allowed to carry concealed weapons in Virginia, and Virginians will be able to carry concealed weapons in other parts of the country.
Does it also tighten restrictions on guns?
Yes, but in a more nuanced way.
The deal would make it a felony under Virginia law for someone subject to a two-year protective order to possess a gun. Possession for such a person is already illegal under federal law. But because local police, not federal agents, respond to domestic incidents, abusers could be more likely to face charges. And because possession in such cases would be a felony, anyone convicted would lose the right to possess a firearm for life, barring subsequent restoration of civil rights through the governor.
The deal also calls for putting a state trooper at every gun show to run background checks for private sellers who currently have no way to check buyers’ criminal histories. But those checks would remain optional.
The McAuliffe administration says the troopers’ mere presence probably would scare off felons and other illegal buyers. The administration also hopes that many sellers, fearing civil liability, will opt to make the checks. Gun-rights legislators rejected a bill calling for voluntary checks as recently as last year.
If both sides gave up something, why is the left alone howling?
Gun-safety advocates felt blindsided by the deal, which came the week after the governor stood with them and Herring at a rally, where the attorney general’s reciprocity move was celebrated. That camp contends that it had a victory in hand, and that the governor gave it away. Gun-rights activists, on the other hand, started the year furious with Herring’s action but lacking a clear path to reverse it. So to them, the deal feels like a reprieve.
What’s the political spin on all this?
McAuliffe’s camp says that the gun-safety crowd got a good deal, and that the progress on background checks and domestic abusers is more critical than concessions on reciprocity. It echoes an argument long advanced by the gun-rights side: Gun owners who take the time to get a government permit are not the biggest threat to safety.
Gun-rights Republicans, however, say they got the better end of the deal by not only having reciprocity restored but expanded. They contend what their concessions — on optional background checks and abusers — were in territory that had grown harder to defend.
Where is the attorney general on this?
It’s unclear, but he hardly seems happy about it.
The governor’s office was working on the deal to undo one of Herring’s biggest achievements for at least a week before it let him know what was in the works. Herring has not taken a public position on the deal and was notably absent from a news conference Friday, when McAuliffe and GOP leaders rolled out the deal. Herring’s spokesman said he had a prior commitment.
McAuliffe and his team have artfully credited Herring for bringing everyone to the table — suggesting that by yanking reciprocity, Herring so freaked out the gun-rights folks that they were willing to make a deal. But Herring’s absence on this has been conspicuous, particularly at Friday’s event, when McAuliffe asked the crowd to give the absent AG a round of applause. Awkward!