VA Governor Bypasses the Legislative Process to Push His Anti-Gun Agenda

Photo Credit:By Edward Kimmel [CC BY-SA 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

After failing to get stricter gun control legislation approved by the state legislature last session, Gov. Terry McAuliffe decided to bypass the elected officials and instead issued an Executive Order to further his anti-gun agenda.

On Thursday, October 15, 2015, at the Capitol, Gov. McAuliffe signed an Executive Order (“EO-50”) setting up a task force aimed at obtaining more aggressive prosecution of gun crimes. The order also establishes a statewide tip line to report gun crimes, orders state police to request a trace of every gun involved in a crime in Virginia, encourages prosecutors and judges to seek more gun forfeitures, and bans the carrying of guns in state government buildings.

U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine and Attorney General Mark Herring joined the Governor at the press conference to announce the signing of Executive Order 50, along with gun-control advocates and parents of victims killed in gun-related incidents.

McAuliffe has been an outspoken advocate for tighter gun control measures and has made reducing gun violence a central focus of his administration.  Nevertheless, he has failed to get those efforts past the Republican-controlled General Assembly.

“The actions directed in this executive order will help our Commonwealth better enforce Virginia laws designed to keep guns away from people who would use them for harm,” Governor McAuliffe said in a statement. “The task force I have convened will take tangible steps to bring more successful prosecutions of gun crimes, and the other steps outlined in the order will aid in our efforts to keep families safe from gun violence. We must continue to work to overcome political resistance to commonsense gun safety legislation, but in the mean time I am committed to using every power of my office to prevent senseless killings.

The Governor’s office issued this statement following the press conference:

 In today’s press conference he listed common sense legislative proposals, like universal background checks and keeping guns away from violent criminals, domestic abusers and stalkers, which were rejected by Republicans in the General Assembly. As he signed today’s executive order, he pledged to introduce legislation again in the upcoming session and to continue to make the case for preventing gun crime in communities across the Commonwealth.

Virginia House of Delegates Republican leaders quickly responded that day to Executive Order 50.

“For years, we have consistently said the best way to keep Virginians safe is to enforce existing law,” said House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford). “We will monitor the work of the task force. The Governor’s policy on firearms in state buildings will not apply to the State Capitol or the General Assembly Building. Most importantly, the House of Delegates will continue to focus on investing in mental and behavioral health care improvements that will have a meaningful impact on individual lives and our communities as a whole.”

“It is curious that the Governor and Attorney General are putting such special emphasis on enforcing Virginia’s gun laws when they have been so eager to ignore other laws in the past,” said House Majority Leader Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights).

“We are confident that our local law enforcement officers and [the] Commonwealth’s Attorneys are enforcing all of Virginia’s laws to their full extent. The Governor and Attorney General should take extra care before interfering with their work.”

“The Governor’s decision to prohibit firearms in state buildings is shortsighted. As we have seen again and again, such policies leave law-abiding citizens vulnerable to acts of senseless violence rather than protecting people from such tragedies,” said House Deputy Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah). “We will review this policy during the 2016 legislative session and take the appropriate action to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens.”

Opponents call for the Governor to enforce the existing laws.  Why does it take a task force to encourage authorities to prosecute gun crimes?  They cite Project Exile as an example of how enforcement can make a difference.  Project Exile was a federal program started in Richmond, Virginia in 1997 that shifted the prosecution of illegal technical gun possession offenses to federal court, where they carried a mandatory minimum sentence of five years in federal prison under the federal Gun Control Act of 1968 rather than in state court. Under Project Exile, Richmond saw its murder rate fall by 62% in the first ten years.

Nor does this executive order address the mental health issues that may do more to make the streets safer than imposing more restrictions on law-abiding citizens.

We can only hope that more governors do not push forward their anti-gun agendas through the use of executive orders to accomplish that which they are unable to achieve through the legislative process.

It’s ironic that the Commonwealth of Virginia’s motto is “Sic Semper Tyrannis, a Latin phrase meaning “thus always to tyrants” often credited to having been said by Brutus during the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44BC.

The full text of the Governor’s executive order is below:

NUMBER FIFTY (2015)
EXECUTIVE ACTION TO PREVENT GUN VIOLENCE

Importance of the Issue:
Like too many communities around the nation, cities and counties across the Commonwealth have experienced the devastating effects of gun violence. While Virginians will never forget the tragic massacre of young promise that occurred at Virginia Tech in 2007, or the most recent murders of two young journalists on air in Roanoke, gun violence has tragically impacted families and communities from Lee County to the Eastern Shore, from Loudoun to Halifax in ways that have changed those communities forever.
Through the efforts of many Virginians within both the public and private sectors, our Commonwealth has taken great steps to limit access to guns to those who have mental health issues, previous felony convictions, or a current protective order. But, as events around our nation and Virginia’s own recent history show, more must be done.

It has been estimated that nearly 40% of all guns sold in America are sold by private, unlicensed sellers either online or through gun shows. These sellers are not required by federal or state law to perform any background checks before transferring a firearm. While law enforcement can appropriately monitor the compliance of Federal Firearm Licensees (“FFLs”), unlicensed sellers face little to no regulation in their selling of firearms. Without appropriate safeguards, this large gap in our firearm regulatory scheme gives criminals and other persons incapable of passing a background check easy access to firearms. In a state where open carry is lawful, our law enforcement personnel have no way to determine if a person openly carrying a firearm is in lawful possession or a convicted criminal taking advantage of a gap in our regulatory system.
The ease of access to firearms by criminals and others intent on harm is even more concerning when viewed in light of the general open access to our public facilities. Every day, over 60,000 Virginians report to work in state government buildings across the Commonwealth to provide services to their fellow Virginians. Our citizens rely on open access to these facilities to address their personal and professional needs. Whether it is to incorporate a business, renew a driver’s license, apply for a job, seek a permit, or just to attend a public hearing, our government facilities are essential to allowing our citizens access to their government representatives. Allowing open carry in these facilities by individuals who may not lawfully possess a firearm exposes our state employees and fellow citizens to unnecessary risk.

There is no magic solution to curbing gun violence. As the National Institute of Justice noted, no single approach will prevent gun violence: “To reduce gun violence, a sustained program that addresses both demand and supply is needed. A successful intervention will have elements of federal-local law enforcement collaboration, community involvement, targeted intervention tactics and continuous program evaluation.”

My administration, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, along with federal and local law enforcement, is committed to doing everything within our power to prevent gun violence in our communities. Accordingly, pursuant to my authority under Article V of the Constitution of Virginia and under the Code of Virginia, I am ordering the following:

  1. Establish Joint Task Force to Prosecute Gun Crimes
    There shall be established a Joint Task Force to Prosecute Gun Crimes (the “Task Force”), to be led by the Attorney General of Virginia and the Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security. The Task Force shall be comprised of representatives from state and local prosecutors and law enforcement, the Virginia State Police, the Department of Criminal Justice Services, along with federal partners in order to develop strategies and coordinate efforts to strictly enforce existing gun laws under state and federal law. Following from successful law enforcement efforts in the past, the Task Force will put special emphasis on enforcing two key protections under the law:

1.) That only licensed firearms dealers engage in the business of selling firearms.

2.) That persons prohibited from owning firearms are prevented from obtaining them.
The Task Force will rely principally on the investigatory powers of state and federal law enforcement agencies, in partnership with local agencies, in order to pursue effective enforcement actions, using both criminal and civil proceedings, to enforce the gun laws.

Additionally, I am asking the Task Force to identify those areas within our regulatory system that significantly hamper law enforcement’s ability to effectively pursue illegal transfers of weapons and how our Commonwealth can be better situated to address these areas.

  1. Authorize Attorney General to Coordinate and Bring Criminal Cases Against Firearms Law Offenders

In order to facilitate enforcement of the existing gun laws, I am invoking my authority under § 2.2-511 and asking the Attorney General to coordinate these prosecutorial efforts and bring such cases as he may deem most appropriate in order to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth from illegal firearms sales. I also reserve the right to initiate any other legal proceedings that may be necessary to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth from illegal firearms sales.

III. Establish Tip Line for Illegal Gun Activity

The Virginia State Police coordinates the criminal background checks used by licensed firearm dealers to confirm that prohibited individuals are not able to purchase firearms. To aid in enforcement of the gun laws already on the books, I hereby order the Virginia State Police to establish a Tip Line that will enable citizens to report violations of the gun laws and to collect a reward for any successful prosecutions flowing from the information provided.

  1. Trace Guns Used in Crime

Gun violence occurs every day in the Commonwealth, oftentimes by individuals who should never have had a gun in the first place. In order to aid in the Task Force’s work, I hereby direct the Virginia State Police to set a policy to request tracing of every gun used in the commission of a crime in the Commonwealth, working with local and federal law enforcement to accomplish this goal.
Obtaining this information will be critical to enforcing the gun laws already on the books in Virginia.

  1. Encourage Judges and Prosecutors to Seek Gun Forfeiture in Felony and Other Cases

Cases of domestic violence in which there is access to firearms often ends in needless tragedy. The power to prevent gun purchases, however, is not effective when the domestic abuser or felon already has access to guns.

Accordingly, in consultation with the Office of the Attorney General, we will be working, through training and advocacy, to encourage prosecutors and judges to use their broad power in both criminal sentencing and in domestic violence protective orders to require persons prohibited from obtaining guns to forfeit guns they may already possess.

  1. Banning Firearms in State Government Buildings

We must take every precaution to protect our citizens and state employees from gun violence. We cannot wait until a tragedy occurs to decide to address it. Prevention requires us to address areas of concern before they are realized. Accordingly, I hereby declare that it is the policy of the Commonwealth that open carry of firearms shall be prohibited in offices occupied by executive branch agencies, unless held by law enforcement, authorized security, or military personnel authorized to carry firearms in accordance with their duties. Within 30 days of the date of this Executive Order, the Director of the Department of General Services (DGS) shall issue guidance prohibiting carrying weapons openly in offices occupied by executive branch agencies.

I further order the Director of DGS, within 30 days of the date of this Executive Order, to propose regulations to ban the carrying of concealed weapons in offices occupied by executive branch agencies, unless held by law enforcement, authorized security, or military personnel authorized to carry firearms in accordance with their duties.

Conclusion

All Virginians have the right to feel safe and secure in going about their daily lives. The

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