OPPOSE Legislation to Weaken State Firearms Preemption
Strong State Firearms Preemption Prevents an Incomprehensible Patchwork of Local Laws
Under Virginia law, localities are broadly prohibited from passing ordinances or enacting policies “governing the purchase, possession, transfer, ownership, carrying, storage or transporting of firearms, ammunition, or components or combination thereof…”This ensures that those living and traveling throughout Virginia are subject to the same predictable state statutes wherever they are in the Commonwealth. With this system, law-abiding gun owners can move about the state without fear of being ensnared by a confusing patchwork of disparate local ordinances.
Prior to enacting a strong firearms preemption statute, Virginia’s localities had a patchwork of local gun controls. Several cities and counties had various gun-seller licensing and taxation schemes. Some localities maintained a registry of handguns and their owners. Multiple jurisdictions imposed a 72-hour waiting period on handgun purchases. Numerous localities required a “permit” or other written law enforcement permission to acquire a handgun.
Without Preemption, Local Gun Bans Would Destroy the Right-to-Carry
Since adopting a shall-issue concealed handgun permitting statute in 1995, Virginia has embraced law-abiding citizens’ Right-to-Carry for defense of themselves and others. There are currently 400,000 Virginia concealed handgun permit holders. In 2016, Democratic Governor Terry McAuliffe signed legislation that ensured the Commonwealth would recognize Right-to-Carry permits from all other states.
At present, Virginia statute provides for discrete and predictable areas where gun possession is prohibited even for concealed handgun permit holders. These locations may not be augmented by local governments. Weakening Virginia’s preemption statute would undo this respect for the Right-to-Carry by empowering local officials to create convoluted and unpredictable local laws prohibiting firearms in any number of places. Unable to predict or comprehend the contours of the various ordinances in Virginia’s 95 counties and 38 independent cities, concealed handgun permit holders would be forced to forego their Right-to-Carry for fear of running afoul of an obscure or complicated local law.
Localities Have Shown a Willingness to Violate Second Amendment Rights and Preemption Statutes
Often more ideologically homogenous than larger political units, local governments have repeatedly shown a willingness to attack the Second Amendment rights of their constituents. Cities such as Morton Grove and Oak Park, Illinois and San Francisco, Calif. enacted handgun bans in contravention of the Second Amendment.
Some localities have shown contempt for existing state preemption statutes by passing ordinances in clear violation of state law. This year, Pittsburgh Mayor Bill Peduto pushed a local “assault weapons” ban that violated Pennsylvania’s state preemption statute and Pennsylvania Supreme Court precedent. In 2015, Cleveland enacted a raft of local gun controls in clear violation of Ohio’s preemption statute. The measures were struck down by an Ohio court in 2017. Most recently, Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney proposed a prohibition on the Right-to-Carry that violates Virginia’s firearms preemption statute.
Given some localities’ willingness to infringe upon constitutional rights and violate clear state statutes, the General Assembly should seek to strengthen Virginia’s preemption statute rather than endorse tactics that undermine the rule of law.