With the fresh tragedy of Newtown, Conn., haunting the Virginia General Assembly, the issue of gun control is certain to be one of the most emotional topics on the docket. But that doesn't mean that legislators will take action.
Both sides in the gun debate responded to the school shooting by doubling down on their existing positions. Gun enthusiasts called for increased armed security while supporters for increased regulation called for new restrictions. A few days after the shooting, Republican Gov. Bob McDonnell said policymakers should consider allowing school officials to carry firearms on campus. Northern Virginia Democrats were ready to pounce.
“Virginians deserve a measured and mainstream plan to keep schools safe, not a rash response that blindly puts more guns in our schools,” said Del. Charniele Herring (D-46), chairwoman of the Democratic Party of Virginia, in a written statement. “That is the wrong approach.”
Democrats have introduced a number of new gun regulations, everything from restricting who can walk into the Capitol with a firearm to requiring stolen guns to be reported within 24 hours. Perhaps the most controversial is the effort to close the gun-show loophole by requiring that all private gun sales require a background check. The gun lobby is ready to oppose the efforts of Herring and her party.
“Background checks have really done nothing to increase safety,” said Phillip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. “Back in the '50s and '60s, you could walk into a hardware store and buy a gun, and it was a lot safer back then.”
Will the session end with any new gun restrictions?
“I just don't see a lot of potential traction for gun control legislation this year,” said Kyle Kondik. “That's especially true given the makeup of the House of Delegates, which is so overwhelmingly Republican.”
A Gun in Every School
The National Rifle Association responded to the tragedy in Newtown, Conn., by calling for police officers at every school in America. Several members of the General Assembly have responded by introducing legislation that would fund new school resource officers throughout Virginia.
“I don't think that's a terrible proposal,” said Del. Rob Krupicka (D-45). “But I think it needs to be modified so that we give local school districts the option to spend the money in the way they think is best for school safety.”
That could mean more police officers at schools, Krupicka said. But schools could also opt to spend the money on new security cameras to monitor entrances and exits. It could mean stronger locks or other safeguards to prevent people from blasting their way into schools.
“I'd like to expand the school safety concept and include a lot more options than just school resource officers,” said Krupicka. “Let the local school districts decide what will make them the most safe.”
During his time as a member of the House of Delegates, Adam Ebbin made a name for himself as a tireless advocate for laws cracking down on human trafficking. He introduced new legislation every session, and many of his efforts had bipartisan support. Now that he's in the seat that was held for many years by former state Sen. Patsy Ticer (D-30), Ebbin has taken the fight to the other side of the Capitol.
This year, Ebbin is at it again with a bill that would help victims of human trafficking get their lives back together. The effort would allow people who have been forced into a life of prostitution to apply to have their convictions overturned. In an interview about the bill, Ebbin said he has a constituent who was forced into a life of prostitution in Washington, D.C., and New York City. Now she's facing the difficult task of putting the past behind her with a felony conviction on her record.
“In many cases, this is not a crime victims could escape from committing,” said Ebbin. “If you are forced to commit prostitution under the threat of violence or after being brutalized, particularly if you are underage.”