The Virginia Senate greenlit a controversial “red flag law” Wednesday in defiance of the tens of thousands of pro-gun activists who took to the streets of Richmond days earlier to protest the pending gun control legislation.
The bill passed the Democratic-controlled Senate along party lines, 21 to 19, and will likely sail through the House, where the Democratic majority is larger. Then it goes to Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam’s desk.
But enforcing the law, if it passes, will be another challenge altogether. Ninety-one out of 95 counties have declared “Second Amendment sanctuary” status since November, when Democrats won control of the Virginia legislature for the first time since 1994. That means they are claiming they can decide which gun laws to enforce, and which to ignore. Additionally, at least 15 out of 38 independent cities and 30 towns have also declared sanctuary status.
If Virginia passes a red flag law, it would become the 18th state to do so. Thirteen states passed red flag laws just since 2018, after a mass school shooting by an unstable Florida teen highlighted law enforcement’s powerlessness to take guns away from people who shouldn’t have them.
The Virginia law would enable authorities to obtain an emergency substantial risk order to temporarily seize a person’s firearms. Within 14 days of the emergency order being issued, law enforcement have to make their case in court for a longer-term confiscation.
Nationwide, red flag laws have been used to avert mass shootings, thwart a potential far-right extremist attack, and prevent people in crisis from committing suicide.
But not everyone sees them in a positive light. While state legislators across the country were introducing bills to create red flag laws, local officials in Washington, Oregon, California, New Mexico, Florida and elsewhere, were writing up resolutions to declare themselves as Second Amendment Sanctuaries.
There’s deep skepticism among pro-gun Virginians about what the execution of the law would look like. During Monday’s rally, VICE news spoke to many attendees who envisioned a scenario where police were kicking down law-abiding civilians’ doors and seizing their guns. Others suggested that the red flag law was just a smokescreen for Democrats to go after and criminalize conservative gun owners.
And Republican Sen. Amanda Chase called the Democrats who supported the legislation “traitors,” saying that it would only serve to hurt law-abiding Virginians.
Cover: Billy Llewellyn, of Hanover Va., holds a sign in front of the Virginia State Capitol Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)