A group of Northern Virginia lawmakers, frustrated over a failure to pass gun-safety measures in Richmond, is pushing the state’s two largest jurisdictions to use an existing law that allows local governments to bar people from driving with a loaded shotgun or rifle.
Seeking to capitalize on momentum from last week’s March for Our Lives, 10 Democratic state legislators sent a letter to Prince William County’s Board of Supervisors on Wednesday that urged them to adopt an ordinance regulating the transport of loaded weapons.
Sen. Scott A. Surovell (D-Fairfax County), who is leading the effort, made a similar plea earlier in the week to Fairfax County.
In both cases, the legislators cited a 2004 hunting law that gives local governments a say in how some loaded weapons can be transported. In Northern Virginia, only the City of Alexandria and Loudoun and Fauquier counties have used that authority, according to a state list of local gun regulations compiled for hunters. Prince William prohibits loaded rifles or shotguns on boats.
In 2015, Fairfax studied the possibility of regulating against loaded shotguns and rifles on roads in the state’s largest jurisdiction, but the county did not follow through.
“This is a public safety issue,” Surovell said. In Northern Virginia, where traffic-clogged roads have sparked road-rage incidents, “the last thing you need in those situations is a loaded shotgun or a loaded AR-15,” he said.
The maximum fine under the state law would be $100, but in a state with deep roots in hunting that also is home to the National Rifle Association’s headquarters, the response to the proposal has ranged from ridicule to lukewarm support.
“We’re not going to tell Prince William County citizens whether and how they’re going to defend themselves and their families, including against the dangerous criminal illegal aliens that these very state legislators are trying to harbor,” said Corey A. Stewart, chair of Prince William County’s board and a conservative firebrand seeking to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine (D) in November.
“You think a terrorist is going to pay attention to Prince William County’s local gun ordinance?” Stewart said.
Sharon Bulova (D-At Large), chair of Fairfax’s Democratic-controlled Board of Supervisors, told Surovell in a Twitter reply that she would bring up the issue with her board. Bulova declined to comment further through a spokesman, who said she first wants to know why the county didn’t pursue an ordinance in 2015.
Advocates for the ordinances say the enthusiasm behind nationwide March for Our Lives rallies will help turn the tide on local efforts.
Allison Anderman, managing attorney for the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence in California, said the shooting that left 17 people dead at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida last month has led to a greater openness to tougher gun measures.
For instance, Florida recently adopted a “red flag” law that allows police to temporarily take guns and ammunition from people who show warnings signs of violence.
After last weekend’s rallies, Anderman said, “I’ve been getting dozens of phone calls from local governments around the country saying, ‘What can we do?’ ”
Advocates in Virginia, which had only a handful of local officials attend the March for Our Lives rally in Washington, see a tougher road ahead.
During the past legislative session in the GOP-controlled General Assembly, two of 80 gun-related bills were signed into law.
One of those successful bills allows for “Stop Gun Violence” license plates to be offered while the other prevents teenagers who have received involuntary mental-health treatment from later being able to buy a gun.
Measures that did not make it out of committee include some to expand background checks, to prevent someone from carrying a gun or knife without permission into a house of worship, and to ban rapid-fire “bump stocks” like the type used in a mass shooting last fall in Las Vegas, said Andy Goddard, legislative director for the nonprofit Virginia Center for Public Safety.
“They didn’t even give them a hearing; that was the worst part,” Goddard said. “It’s very frustrating.”
If local officials in Northern Virginia decide to regulate the transport of loaded shotguns or rifles, they might not encounter great resistance from area hunters, the original focus of the 2004 law, said Charles Rogers, president of the National Sportsman Association hunting club in Chantilly. Rogers said responsible hunters already keep their weapons unloaded while driving as a safety measure.
“If you see something and it’s hunting season and it’s not your land or you don’t have permission to use that land, then a loaded gun is not going to be any use to you anyway,” he said. “And once you get outside, it doesn’t take that long to load a gun.”