Virginians are increasingly exercising their Second Amendment rights. NICS Checks in the commonwealth were up more than 60-percent from 2019 to 2020. From 2019 to 2021 there was a 21-percent increase in the number of resident Right-to-Carry permits. National data on gun buyers in 2020 suggest that half of new gun owners are women and that new owners are more diverse than the general population. Moreover, Gallup polling shows that less than 0.5-percent of Americans consider guns to be the most important problem facing the country.
None of this has stopped Virginia Democratic gubernatorial candidate and Clinton bagman Terry McAuliffe from pushing an extreme gun control agenda.
In advocating for severe gun controls, McAuliffe characterized the misuse of firearms as a “public health” matter rather than a criminal justice issue. This is an important rhetorical trick for gun control advocates, as such framing invites further restrictions on law-abiding Virginians instead of measures to control the violent criminals who commit violence with firearms.
The proven inefficacies of the former governor’s gun control proposals, and indifference to robust criminal justice measures, make clear that his plan is about indulging the ugly cultural prejudices of his radical anti-gun base rather than confronting violent crime.
Ban on commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms and their magazines
McAuliffe’s plan calls for a ban on popular semi-automatic firearms like the AR-15 and magazines with a capacity greater than 10 rounds. Such a ban would not decrease violent crime and is unconstitutional.
Rifles of any description are rarely used in violent crime. FBI Uniform Crime Reporting breaks down homicides by weapon. For 2019, the FBI reported that there were more than four times as many individuals listed as killed with “knives or cutting instruments,” than with rifles of any kind. The data also shows that rifles were listed as being used in less homicides than “blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc.)” or “personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.).”
In 1994, a 10-year federal ban on commonly-owned semi-automatic firearms and their magazines was enacted as part of the Clinton Crime Bill. Faced with the reality that so-called “assault weapons,” are rarely used to commit violent crime, a 1997 Department of Justice-funded study of the Clinton ban determined that “At best, the assault weapons ban can have only a limited effect on total gun murders, because the banned weapons and magazines were never involved in more than a modest fraction of all gun murders.”
A 2004 follow-up Department of Justice-funded study came to a similar conclusion. The study determined that “AWs [assault weapons] and LCMs [large capacity magazines] were used in only a minority of gun crimes prior to the 1994 federal ban,” “relatively few attacks involve more than 10 shots fired,” and “the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.” Presented with the overwhelming evidence of the ban’s inefficacy, Congress did not renew it.
In 2018, the RAND Corporation released a study that surveyed the available research on the effects of “assault weapons” and “large” capacity magazine bans. The study found no conclusive evidence that such bans have an effect on mass shootings or violent crime.
As justification for his gun ban, McAuliffe cited the tragic shootings at Virginia Tech and a Virginia Beach municipal building. The facts of these two incidents do not support McAuliffe’s extreme policy.
Both shootings were perpetrated using handguns, NOT so-called “assault weapons.”
In the aftermath of the 2007 shooting at Virginia Tech, Gov. Tim Kaine convened a review panel to study the tragedy. The perpetrator had used several magazines with a capacity greater than 10 rounds in the shooting. The report stated,
The panel also considered whether the previous federal Assault Weapons Act of 1994 that banned 15-round magazines would have made a difference in the April 16 incidents. The law lapsed after 10 years, in October 2004, and had banned clips or magazines with over 10 rounds. The panel concluded that 10-round magazines that were legal would have not made much difference in the incident. Even pistols with rapid loaders could have been about as deadly in this situation.
Following the Virginia Beach shooting, Virginia Beach Police Chief James Cervera was interviewed by George Stephanopoulos on ABC. Chief Cervera noted,
As far as more legislation on gun issues. I’m a member of Major City Chiefs, we did publish something about a year and a half ago. I don’t think most of that would have mattered in this particular case. We do have the Second Amendment it is very stringent for our country. In this particular case the weapons were obtained legally. Everything was done in a legal manner by this individual.
Addressing the same incident, National Tactical Officers Association Executive Director Thor Eells told National Public Radio, “The type of magazine means nothing to the potential threat.”
McAuliffe’s proposed ban would also violate the Second Amendment.
In the District of Columbia v. Heller (2008), the U.S. Supreme Court made clear that Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms. Moreover, the court determined that the Constitution protects ownership of arms “in common use” for lawful purposes.
The AR-15 is the most popular rifle in America. Moreover, some of the most popular handguns in America is designed to use 15 or 17-round magazines.
In 2015, Heller decision author Justice Antonin Scalia reiterated that the Second Amendment and Heller preclude so-called “assault weapons” bans when he signed onto a dissent from the denial of certiorari in Friedman v. Highland Park. In the dissent, Justice Clarence Thomas explained,
Roughly five million Americans own AR-style semiautomatic rifles. The overwhelming majority of citizens who own and use such rifles do so for lawful purposes, including self-defense and target shooting. Under our precedents, that is all that is needed for citizens to have a right under the Second Amendment to keep such weapons.
Gun Owners Registration and Waiting Periods
According to McAuliffe, Virginia’s 2020 law that criminalized private firearm sales did not go far enough. The candidate vowed to “explore the possibility of requiring waiting periods when a person purchases a firearm, and implementing a permit-to-purchase law.” Moreover, McAuliffe’s materials state, “If you want to give a gun to a friend, the person receiving it should have to undergo a background check.”
At a time when Virginians are seeking to protect themselves against a historic increase in homicide, McAuliffe would make them helpless by enacting new barriers to self-defense. McAuliffe’s plan could even prevent friends and family members from providing firearms to loved ones in their time of need.
These restrictions would have no effect on violent crime.
In 2018, Researchers at the Bloomberg School of Public Health and the UC Davis School of Medicine found that comprehensive background checks and prohibitions based on violent misdemeanors “were not associated with changes in firearm suicide or homicide.”
Examining “the effects of licensing and permitting requirements” in 2020, the RAND Corporation found no conclusive evidence that such measures decrease violent crime or mass shootings.
NRA-ILA has explained, waiting periods only serve to frustrate law-abiding gun buyers.
As common sense would dictate, McAuliffe’s proposals are ineffectual because criminals don’t bother to follow the law when acquiring firearms. Background checks, waiting periods, and permits to purchase don’t stop criminals from stealing firearms, getting them on the black market, or getting them from straw purchasers.
According to the Department of Justice, 75-percent of criminals in state and federal state prison who had possessed a firearm during their offense acquired the firearm through theft, “Off the street/underground market,” or “from a family member or friend, or as a gift.” Less than one percent got firearms from dealers or non-dealers at gun shows.
Gun owners should understand permit to purchase regimes for what they are: registration of law-abiding gun owners. Such schemes require collecting and storing gun owners’ private information and would help to facilitate any future gun control efforts, including gun confiscation.
Moreover, governments have repeatedly proven that they are in no position to safeguard sensitive data on their citizens, or even their employees. Given the politically sensitive nature of gun owner data, a leak by an ideologically-motivated government employee is all the more likely. This could make law-abiding gun owners the targets of malicious political actors or violent criminals seeking weapons.
Restricting the Right-to-Carry
In 2020, the Virginia legislature and Gov. Ralph Northam (D) eroded Virginia’s state firearms preemption statute in order to attack law-abiding gun owners who exercise their Right-to-Carry outside the home for self-defense.
The legislation empowered anti-gun jurisdictions to prohibit carry in the following locations:
(i) in any building, or part thereof, owned or used by such locality, or by any authority or local governmental entity created or controlled by the locality, for governmental purposes;
(ii) in any public park owned or operated by the locality, or by any authority or local governmental entity created or controlled by the locality;
(iii) in any recreation or community center facility operated by the locality, or by any authority or local governmental entity created or controlled by the locality; or
(iv) in any public street, road, alley, or sidewalk or public right-of-way or any other place of whatever nature that is open to the public and is being used by or is adjacent to a permitted event or an event that would otherwise require a permit.
This has created a confusing and ever-changing patchwork of local laws throughout the Commonwealth that puts law-abiding gun owners who exercise their Right-to-Carry in legal peril.
McAuliffe plans to further restrict carry “in certain public spaces” and give local governments “broader authority to prohibit open carry in their jurisdictions.”
As the 2020 law already authorized jurisdictions to restrict all carry on a host of government property, the somewhat vague McAuliffe plan must contemplate something more restrictive. This could be a statewide restriction on firearms in the locations listed above, regardless of local input. Further, the candidate’s plan could include restricting carry in “public spaces” that extend beyond public property. The “broader authority to prohibit open carry in their jurisdictions” language suggests a plan to authorize anti-gun local governments to extinguish the right to open carry, a right enjoyed in the vast majority of states, throughout a jurisdiction at their discretion.
As with McAuliffe’s other action items, such restrictions have no empirical backing.