IN VIRGINIA, about 5,600 people were convicted in 2011 and 2012 on misdemeanor counts of assaulting a member of their family or household. During the same period, the state’s courts found 171 individuals guilty of misdemeanor stalking charges and 158 guilty of misdemeanor sexual battery. In Richmond, Republican lawmakers in the House of Delegates want to ensure that these offenders can continue to own handguns and rifles if they so wish.
House Republicans last week killed legislation that would have required such convicts to forfeit their weapons for five years. They did so in defiance of the strong support the measure enjoyed from state associations representing police, sheriffs and prosecutors, not to mention women’s groups. When the GOP calls itself the party of law and order, roll your eyes.
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In fairness, the bill — sponsored by a pair of Northern Virginia Democrats, Sen. Barbara A. Favola of Arlington and Del. Marcus B. Simon of Fairfax — did attract some Republican support in the state Senate, which approved it by a vote of 29 to 6. But a GOP-controlled subcommittee in the House dismissed it without so much as deigning to hear expert testimony, or even taking a recorded vote. (Anyone who wishes to register their opinion of such cavalier lawmaking should contact Del. Robert B. Bell, Republican of Albemarle, who chairs the Criminal Law Subcommittee of the Courts of Justice Committee.)
Gun rights advocates and Republican lawmakers who opposed the legislation said they were loath to penalize misdemeanor offenders by depriving them of their Second Amendment gun rights. (Those convicted of felonies in Virginia are automatically required to forfeit their weapons.) However, studies suggest that the best predictor of future violent behavior is past violent behavior. Misdemeanor convictions of assault, stalking and sexual battery are not trivial offenses, and the people who commit them should not be permitted to carry firearms as if nothing were amiss or as if they posed no particular risk to society.
It’s a safe bet that plenty of Republican lawmakers understand this thoroughly, including the five who abstained when the bill passed the Senate. Their fear is a primary challenger, backed by the National Rifle Association and other pro-gun groups. So legislation that would clearly enhance public safety is disdained as “gun control.”
Republicans in the House were unswayed by testimony from advocates, including women who had been shot by their husbands. One such victim was Lisette Johnson, whose husband of 21 years abused and stalked her for years before shooting her several times in 2009. “He was not someone who was going to kill me with his hands,” she told a Richmond television station. “If he had not had a gun, our lives would have been entirely different.”