RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Hundreds of advocates with the group Moms Demand Action came to the Virginia State Capitol on Friday to urge lawmakers to pass gun reform, including stronger firearm storage laws.
It comes after a six-year-old shot and injured a teacher at a Newport News elementary school one week ago. But the incident doesn’t appear to have moved the needle for the GOP, which controls the House of Delegates and has historically rejected stricter gun laws.
“We are tired of Governor Youngkin’s thoughts and prayers without action. We need to hold lawmakers accountable when they fail to act,” said Shannon Watts, founder of Moms Demand Action.
Anastasia Dzura, a mother from Chesterfield, said getting involved with the group after her two teenagers came to her with questions about school shooting drills.
“They didn’t feel safe at school and, as a parent, that was hugely concerning to me. It broke my heart, and I just wanted to do something,” Dzura said. “This is about keeping our children safe. This is about ensuring children don’t have access to deadly weapons.”
One bill from Senator Jennifer Boysko (D-Fairfax) says, in situations where a minor could reasonably access a firearm, unattended guns must be locked up and unloaded with ammunition stored in a separate, locked container. She said this would build on safe storage legislation that passed in 2020 under Democratic leadership, though Republicans argue it’s redundant.
Boysko said, “This bill would not only stop tragedies like we saw in Newport News but it would prevent other tragedies, including gun accidents, youth suicides and school shootings.”
Another bill sponsored by Senator David Marsden (D-Fairfax) would require gun owners to lock their weapons within an unattended vehicle to cut down on a growing trend of car thefts.
Moms Demand Action is backing another bill that would ban untraceable ghost guns. They also want to strengthen Virginia’s red flag law and measures disarming domestic abusers.
On Friday, Senate Democrats held a press conference to push for these laws and a few that weren’t included in the priorities for Moms Demand Action.
Senator Adam Ebbin (D-Fairfax) is introducing a bill that would prohibit the public carrying of assault-style weapons.
Senator Creigh Deeds (D-Bath) has a bill that would ban the new sale and possession of assault weapons manufactured after July 1, 2023. It would also raise the age to buy an assault weapon manufactured before the bill’s effective date from 18 to 21.
“So a lot of people will not be pleased that this doesn’t go far enough but it is designed to slow the spread of these firearms on the street,” Deeds said. “I know this bill is not perfect but I know it will also save lives.”
Deed’s bill is narrower than legislation that failed during the 2020 session.
Delegate Tony Wilt, who chairs the House Public Safety Committee, said it still goes too far.
“I’m concerned about that legislation and probably the biggest thing is how it pertains to the law-abiding citizens,” he said.
According to Wilt, the GOP will take a different approach to reduce gun violence.
“Those that have truly committed the crimes, we need to have stiffer penalties for those people. We need to take better care of our law enforcement,” Wilt said.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League is expected to hold a rally at the State Capitol on Monday, Jan. 16.
VCDL President Phil Van Cleave said they’ll oppose new gun reforms being debated this year and advocate for the repeal of several gun control laws passed in 2020. He said one of their top priorities is getting rid of a law that allows localities to ban guns in certain spaces. They’ll also target firearm prohibitions in state government buildings and advocate for a bill that aims to eliminate permitting requirements for concealed carry.