The Senate voted 23-16 on Monday to advance a bill that would adjust Virginia’s red flag law; the bill joins a handful of Democratic gun-related bills the chamber has endorsed.
But it might not clear the GOP-led House of Delegates, where bills concerning storage requirements and restrictions on assault-style firearms have failed.
A red flag law is a common term for substantial risk orders. These orders allow law enforcement and prosecutors to petition courts to temporarily prohibit possession, purchase or transportation of firearms from people who have been deemed a risk to themselves or others.
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Senate Bill 1076 would add factors for a judge to consider when issuing a substantial risk order — factors such as arrests or law violations within the six months leading up to the filing of the petition. Once a petition is filed, the person with the order has a hearing and can defend their right to keep a firearm, but can also lose access for a period of time determined by a judge.
Calling it “an expansion of the red flag law,” Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, urged his colleagues to vote down the bill.
“What I have not heard is any instance in which a red flag law complaint was made, but was rejected, in which harm has occurred to anybody in the commonwealth of Virginia,” he said. “I would hope that members would vote ‘no.’”
But a majority of his colleagues voted yes.
Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Fairfax, who carried the bill, asserted his bill is not expanding Virginia’s red flag law, but is just adjusting it.
“This basically just makes clear what evidence the court can consider,” he said before the Senate voted. “If you look at the language that’s in this statute, it was taken from the Florida statute. Again, Florida is not a sound bastion of progressivism at all I would say. Florida has been one of the most aggressive states using these laws. And that’s where these factors came from.”
After a mass shooting at a high school in 2018, Florida’s GOP-controlled state legislature took action on red flag laws to try to prevent mass shootings. In his speech, Surovell recalled the recent University of Virginia shooting where the gunman had been reported to police and school authorities but lacked a substantial risk order.
“There certainly were all kinds of factors out there that suggested that that man was a candidate for a red flag order,” Surovell said.
Charlotte Rene Woods
@CharlotteWords on Twitter