Virginia Democrats push gun violence prevention bills amid wave of shootings

Amid a wave of high profile shootings in the commonwealth, Senate Democrats in Virginia are rolling out a collection of bills intended to prevent gun violence.

“Whether it’s a suicide, a homicide, an accident or an injury, gun violence is preventable, and the legislators here today are leading the way,” Lori Haas, advocacy manager for the Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, said at a Friday press conference.

Senate Democrats are pushing 10 bills, including one that would enact stricter firearm storage rules in homes with minors and another that would raise the age requirement needed to purchase an assault firearm to 21.

Sen. David Marsden of Fairfax said his bill was aimed at preventing the theft of guns from cars. He described gun theft as an “epidemic” problem in several cities, including Portsmouth and Virginia Beach.

Marsden did not provide local figures but said 77,000 guns nationwide are stolen from cars annually.

“We are arming the people who are committing violent acts in our community,” he said. “We have films of young people walking down the street shaking car doors looking for entry.”

Marsden’s bill would require guns left unattended in vehicles to be secured in a locked container or compartment. Violators would face up to a $500 fine and could have their car towed.

Another bill from Sen. Adam Ebbin of Alexandria would prohibit assault weapons from being carried in public spaces. He said such weapons have “no place in civil society” and believed it would help protect law enforcement officers.

“Their standard issue vest can’t stop a high velocity bullet,” he said. ”It’s long past time we do more to protect our public servants.”

Perhaps the most ambitious measure came from Sen. Creigh Deeds of Bath County. He said his bill would ban the purchase or manufacture of assault firearms after a certain date but would not impact those already in circulation.

“It is designed to slow the spread of these firearms on the streets,” he said.

A spokesperson for the Senate Republican Caucus did not comment on the proposed bills Friday.

If the bills pass the Senate, they would likely face an uphill battle in the GOP-held House of Delegates.

Alex Keena, assistant professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University, has said he believed bills restricting firearms would likely require Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s backing to receive support from Republican legislators.

“I just don’t see it happening,” he said.

Gun violence has rocked the commonwealth in recent months.

Three students were killed in a Nov. 13 mass shooting at the University of Virginia. Less than two weeks later, a gunman fatally shot six employees at a Chesapeake Walmart.

Youngkin, who spoke at a vigil for the Walmart victims, didn’t mention firearms during his remarks. But he pledged his administration would work across party lines to improve mental health care in Virginia.

Katie King,