On a party-line vote, a Senate committee on Monday effectively killed efforts to repeal the state’s so-called red flag law which allows authorities to take guns away from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 9-6 to “pass by indefinitely” the bill by Del. Marie March, R-Floyd County.
Red flag laws gained traction across the country after the high school shooting in Parkland, Fla., in 2018. As a means to prevent mass shootings, the Virginia General Assembly – over strong opposition from gun rights advocates – passed its own version of the legislation in 2020 after Democrats gained the majority in both chambers.
The law, which went into effect on July 1 that year, gives law enforcement or prosecutors the authority to petition a judge or magistrate to issue an emergency substantial risk order, valid for 14 days, against someone deemed a threat. However, authorities are first required to conduct an investigation, supported by an affidavit, before they can petition. If granted, the order allows authorities to seize a person’s weapons and prohibit the purchase of new firearms.
But the law also guarantees anyone subjected to such seizure a hearing within 14 days, allowing them the opportunity to plead their case and have their guns returned to them – if a judge so decides – or have them held up to 180 days under a permanent substantial risk order, which can be extended by an additional 180 days. There is no limit on the number of extensions.
Currently 19 states and the District of Columbia have some form of red flag laws in the books, including Florida and Nevada.
“Who among is such a expert on reading someone’s mind that they can prevent” someone from committing a crime or harming themselves?, March asked the committee. “And how can you prove you prevented a crime? We’re depriving people of property for a thought crime.”
The Senate committee heard testimony that the red flag law has been used in a long list of Virginia localities, including Campbell County, Dinwiddie County, Floyd County, Montgomery County, Patrick County, Rockbridge County, Scott County, Washington County and Wythe County.
The bill had earlier passed the Republican-controlled House of Delegates 52-47 on a party line vote, but the Senate has a narrow Democratic majority with a 9-6 Democratic majority on the Senate Judiciary Committee.
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House passes bill to make parole board votes public
The House of Delegates passed by a wide margin a bill from state Sen. David Suetterlein, R-Roanoke County, that will make public the votes of the state Parole Board.
The secrecy of the Parole Board votes became an issue last year after several controversial releases. The bill previously passed the Senate 37-3. On Monday, it passed the House 96-3 and now goes to the governor.