Q.: What legislation, if any, do you think the General Assembly should review as a result of the Virginia Tech shootings?
O'BRIEN: Access to firearms by mentally unstable individuals will be at the forefront of the next General Assembly. This would include firearms acquired before the medical diagnosis of unsuitability. Also, reporting requirements need to be strengthened. The time to report mentally unstable individuals must be immediate.
BARKER: 1. Consider legislation to make permanent the Executive Order issued by Gov. Timothy Kaine.
2. Address the issue of some gun purchases, such as those at gun shows, not being subject to a background check.
3. Increase funding and support for mental health services.
4. Make improvements to the mental health detention and commitment process.
I work with a regional group on mental health services. There is inadequate state funding for mental health, and there are waiting lists for services, particularly for residential programs. If we provide adequate mental health services, we help those with mental illness and reduce the potential for destructive behavior.
GALLIGAN: Whether we're talking about guns in bars, guns in schools or guns in the hands of the mentally ill, it's time to bring commonsense back to the gun control debate in Virginia. I'm proud to have been a leader on this issue when I ran for state senate in 2003, and I'll continue to fight to close loopholes in the law, bring better enforcement to the laws on the books, and advance responsible limits.
Q.: Gov. Tim Kaine's recent executive expanded the reasons that residents could be denied a gun to include all people ordered to undergo mental health treatment. The order clarifies that there will be no distinction between those who undergo outpatient or inpatient treatment. Do you agree with this decision?
O'BRIEN: Absolutely. The Governor closed a loophole that a mentally incompetent person could use to acquire a firearm.
BARKER: I agree with the Executive Order issued by Governor Kaine regarding reporting to Federal authorities a legal determination of mental illness needing treatment, regardless of whether that treatment is provided on an inpatient or outpatient basis. The issue should be whether or not someone has such a legally determined condition, not where the treatment for such a condition is provided.
GALLIGAN: The tragedy at Virginia Tech exposed a loophole in the purchasing of guns that needs to be closed, and Gov. Kaine has taken the appropriate steps to do so via executive order. Before the executive order, someone who is deemed "a danger to themselves", and voluntarily commits themselves to receive psychiatric treatment and evaluation, could still clear a background check and purchase a firearm in Virginia despite being "mentally defective". Right now, cases that result in involuntary commitments are the ones that show up on gun purchase background checks, and immediately deny the right to own a gun.
Q.: Currently, citizens can purchase guns from individuals and/or at gun shows in Virginia without a background check. Do you believe this law should be changed?
O'BRIEN: I have always supported instant background checks as the best way to determine the suitability of the purchaser. The usual prohibition is a past criminal record. But mental health is just as important.
BARKER: I believe there should be background checks regardless of the place of the purchase. It is illogical to require someone to have a background check for purchase at a store but not require a background check to buy the same gun at a gun show. Not having background checks at gun shows provides a gaping loophole that can be exploited by people who know they would not pass a background check.
Background checks have been effective in blocking purchases by people who do not pass the background check. The percentage of rejections is significantly higher than many would expect. That suggests that the background check provision is successful in preventing many inappropriate gun purchases.
GALLIGAN: Someone deemed a danger to themselves or others shouldn't be allowed to purchase a firearm, period. A background check must be associated with every purchase of a firearm in Virginia.
Q.: Should the ban on firearms on college campuses be lifted?
O'BRIEN: No. With a child in college, I believe that there are enough challenges for young people living away from home without introducing this element.
BARKER: The Virginia Tech killings were tragic. I do not think, however, it would be appropriate to have guns on campuses. Having guns at colleges could increase the risks of accidental and intentional shootings and of suicides. These could be exacerbated by drinking on campus, particularly binge drinking. In addition, many college students do not regularly lock dorm rooms, increasing the potential for thefts of guns that then could be used criminally.
GALLIGAN: Currently, even conceal carry permit holders cannot legally bring guns onto Virginia public campuses. Local police or campus police will provide storage of hunting weapons in gun lockers. Some on the radical right want the law to be overturned to allow students to carry on campus. I will fight against these efforts.
Q.: Should local jurisdictions in Virginia — including counties and cities — be given more control over firearm policies?
O'BRIEN: There should not be a patchwork of laws regarding firearms at our colleges and universities depending of the location of the school. The statewide policy of the General Assembly should apply to all colleges and universities regardless of the location.
BARKER: Counties, such as Fairfax or Prince William, should be given greater authority over firearm policies in their own public buildings. To protect both employees and citizens, counties should have the ability to prohibit or restrict guns in the counties’ own buildings.
GALLIGAN: Essentially what we want to get to in Virginia is a commonsense approach to dealing with guns in our society. Gov. Kaine is doing the right thing and the General Assembly and jurisdictions across Virginia need to seriously evaluate whether their ordinances make sense in light of this most recent tragedy. Someone deemed a danger to themselves or others shouldn't be allowed to purchase a firearm, period.