Loudoun supervisors have voted to put off taking a position on a proposed state law that would allow law enforcement to temporarily confiscate firearms from people deemed an immediate threat to themselves or others.
County Chairwoman Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large) asked supervisors to support a proposal that would allow law enforcement to apply to a judge for an Emergency Severe Threat Order of Protection, based on a bill proposed by Virginia Beach Del. Jason Miyares (R-82). So called red-flag laws would allow law enforcement to remove firearms from a person if the court finds there is “probable cause to believe that a person is experiencing a behavioral health issue and poses a significant danger of imminently causing death or serious physical injury to himself or others and is likely to suffer death or serious physical injury or cause death or serious physical injury to another person unless immediate action is taken.”
In that case, the person would be required to give their firearms to a custodian of their choice for up to 14 days. The act as written instructs judges to consider factors like evidence of recent credible threats of violence, a pattern of violent behavior, known dangerous mental health issues, previous emergency severe threat protection orders and convictions for violent crimes.
However, that proposal is not the only one under consideration at the state General Assembly, and according to county staff members, the Loudoun County Sheriff’s Office and Department of Mental Health, Substance Abuse, and Developmental Services have open questions about the processes laid out in the bill.
Randall told a story of one of her uncles after a breakup.
“I guess that that moment that she broke up [with him] he felt hopeless,” Randall said. “He walked into my grandparents’ house while dinner was being served, picked up his legal gun, and left his brains on the back wall,” Randall said.
Some Republicans indicated they’re open to the conversation, but said they need more information before voting.
“I would always point out that especially this year, with it being an election year, and we have members of the General Assembly up for an election, anyone who wants them to do something has an opportunity to go directly to them and ask them to do that,” said Supervisor Matthew F. Letourneau (R-Dulles). He pointed out 17 other states have passed similar red flag bills, and asked for more information about those.
Supervisors voted along party lines, 6-3, to defer taking a position on red flag laws in Virginia, with Republicans opposed.
A number of Loudouners had come to the meeting to voice their opinions—mostly in favor of a red flag law, but some opposed.
Matthew O’Donnell recalled his own history of alcoholism.
“I’ve been sober for over 30 years, and I remember that 16-year-old boy, and I guarantee nobody in this room wanted that 16-year-old boy to have that gun,” O’Donnell said. “…If, god forbid, I ever lose my mind and start drinking again, sober me votes right now for drunk me to never have a gun.”
Gail Paen said it’s a proposal that will saves the lives of police, emergency medical personnel and family members. Others pointed to the familiar statistics around gun violence, such as that by many estimates around 100 people a day are killed by a gun in the U.S.
Some Loudouners were wary of the state proposal.
“We don’t want millions of law-abiding gun owners to lose their rights because of public fear over guns,” said Elizabeth Comerford. “… Please tread carefully in making these laws.”
The state General Assembly held a special session in July to address gun violence after another mass shooting, this time at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, killed 12 people. The session adjourned in 90 minutes, after Republican lawmakers blocked any votes on any proposals.
The special session will resume Nov. 18, just after this year’s local and state elections, and red flag law proposals are still under consideration at the House of Delegates Committee on Militia, Police and Public Safety.