Members of Loudoun’s General Assembly delegation held a public listening session on Saturday to give Loudouners a chance to speak to their state legislators, and Loudouners mostly came to talk about guns.
The newly Democratic-controlled General Assembly brought with it a wave of new gun control bills pre-filed before this year’s session begins on Jan. 8. One in particular, Springfield Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-35)’s Senate Bill 16, has caused alarm among gun rights activists, who have said it would turn many gun owners into “instant felons” by outlawing possessing some firearms that are already in the hands of the public.
Opponents of that bill said their guns keep them safe.
“In the event of a violent attack, what do you want in your hand?” asked one speaker who attended the hearing in the Board of Supervisors meeting room in Leesburg. “A cell phone and a prayer? Or do you want a credible, capable means of defending yourself?”
Rob Jones, a Marine veteran who lost both legs above the knee to an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan, and who would go on to become a well-known advocate for veterans, Paralympic medalist and candidate in a Republican primary for Congress, said, “I may look like a guy that can handle himself in a fight, but I’ll sell you what—all you gotta do to beat me in a fight is come over and shove me.” He said he can’t run away, and “so I rely on tools, like firearms, to defend myself and defend my family.”
“There are people with disabilities who rely on things like firearms to defend themselves,” Jones said.
“Our firearms are keeping us safe, and they will keep us safe, in the event—I hope not—in the event that tyranny decides to come again, so we can combat it,” said another speaker.
“The Second Amendment doesn’t grant us the right to bear arms,” said a Bluemont resident. “The Second Amendment denies the government the authority to infringe upon our right to bear arms.”
But others said guns represent a “public health crisis” in Virginia, and argued the majority of people want more protections against gun violence.
“We deserve the right of life, liberty and pursuit of happiness without threats in our homes, yards, schools or offices, restaurants, theaters, places of worship, and even online,” said a Leesburg woman. “You were voted in to make reasonable changes.”
An Ashburn resident told the story of a colleague and veteran fire fighter who shot himself, his ex-wife, and another man at a restaurant with a gun he had purchased two days earlier.
“He was a good guy with a gun up until the second he pulled that trigger, killing himself, the man at the table, and injuring his ex-wife,” he said. “That’s why we need PTSD treatment for our first responders, and maybe a red flag law to prevent similar tragedies in the future.”
Some opponents of new gun regulations heckled and shouted at people who disagreed with them during the hearing. Others alluded to violent resistance if the bill is passed.
“What are you going to do when the jails of Loudoun County are filled to the brim with legal gun owners who have automatically become felons because of this new proposed law?” asked one. “What are you going to do when Loudoun County becomes a hotbed of Ruby Ridge-style standoffs against law enforcement, because there are thousands of patriots here who will fight against tyranny?”
Ruby Ridge refers to a 1992 11-day standoff in Idaho between U.S. Marshals and the FBI and Randy Weaver, who had a warrant for failure to appear on a firearms charge, his immediate family and a family friend. During the siege, a U.S. marshal, the Weavers’ 14-year-old son, 42-year-old wife and family dog were killed. The standoff ended through the work of negotiators and the holdouts’ surrender.
The incident would also lead to millions of dollars of settlement for lawsuits accusing government agencies of wrongdoing, hearings in a U.S. Senate subcommittee and a report calling for federal law enforcement reform.
Saslaw’s bill expands the definition of an “assault firearm” under state law and makes it a Class 6 felony to import, sell, transfer, manufacture, purchase, possess or transport one. It also outlaws dealers selling, renting, or trading assault firearms, and prohibits carrying shotguns with a magazine that can hold more than seven rounds of the longest ammunition for which it is chambered in public. It also makes it a misdemeanor to import or sell any magazine designed to hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
The law would define an assault firearm as a semi-automatic pistol or rifle with a fixed magazine capacity of more than 10 rounds, or that accepts a detachable magazine and one of a number of other characteristics, such as a pistol grip, folding stock, grenade launcher, or silencer. For semi-automatic shotguns, the limit is seven rounds.
Also This Year: Climate Change and Redistricting
Some Loudouners also came to push for more legislation to avert the worst effects of climate change. The new General Assembly has also brought hope that the state will take steps to reduce its carbon footprint, such as requiring electricity companies to move toward greener energy sources.
“There is no time left for incremental steps,” said Scott Emery of Zero Carbon Virginia. “This General Assembly must take bold action. Virginia alone cannot solve the climate crisis, but it also will not be solved without Virginia doing our part.”
And others pushed legislators to take the next step in ratifying a state constitutional amendment that would create a redistricting commission, intended to put a stop to partisan gerrymandering when maps are drawn by members of the legislature.
“Many of the legislators in this room voted for it,” said OneVirginia2021 secretary and treasurer Susan Platt. “This constitutional amendment ensure that no matter what party holds a majority, there will never be partisan gerrymandering again.”
The pass that amendment, the legislature must approve the same language again this year that passed last year, and then the measure must go to a voter referendum.