By Kate Clark
Last Tuesday, Virginia took a step towards gun safety. Attorney General Mark Herring announced that as of February 1, Virginia would no longer recognize concealed carry permits from 25 states with which it formerly had reciprocity agreements.
Mr. Herring’s office said he made the decision after months of investigation and audits of each state’s requirements for concealed carry permits. Virginia formerly had reciprocity agreements with 30 states, which allowed people with concealed carry permits from those states to legally conceal their guns in Virginia. According to the Attorney General’s statement, the 25 states’ gun laws did not meet Virginia’s requirement “to prevent someone who is disqualified under Virginia law from receiving a concealed handgun permit.” For example, Virginia law disqualifies anyone with a history of stalking, inpatient treatment for mental illness, or anyone who uses or distributes illegal drugs. Now, only five states’ licenses are recognized in Virginia: Texas, West Virginia, Utah, Michigan, and Oklahoma. Non-Virginia residents can still carry guns openly or obtain a non-resident permit, given that they meet all requirements set out in Virginia’s gun laws.
Gun rights advocates and conservative politicians have already responded. According to the NRA, about 6.3 million permit holders will be affected by the disqualification of the 25 states’ licenses. Additionally, 420,000 Virginia permit holders will no longer be recognized in states that require mutual recognition. The interest group, which headquarters in Virginia, accused Mr. Herring of putting the public’s safety at risk through this “dangerous and shameful” decision. Many believe this decision will make self-defense harder, and that it only punishes the safest of permit holders. In a transient state with many visiting permit holders, hunters and military families, as well as a GOP-controlled state legislature, the Attorney General’s decision is sure to receive significant push-back.
In an interview, Mark Herring stated that Virginia does not need new gun laws, but it will enforce its current laws. As Attorney General, one of his powers is to conduct such a review with the state police, and unlike his predecessors, Mr. Herring chose to exercise this power. Many regard the decision as a smart one - a way to bypass the GOP-controlled state legislature and enforce gun control laws in a systematic, studied way. The decision does not bar nonresidents from carrying their guns, and those who qualify for concealed carry licenses under Virginia law will still be able to apply for a nonresident permit. For those who do not qualify for the license under Virginia law, why should they be permitted to conceal their handguns in the commonwealth? If we would not let a Virginia citizen with the same disqualifications obtain a permit in its territory, we certainly should not allow a nonresident to do so. It seems like common sense.
Interestingly, this decision also highlights more lenient requirements in other states that are potentially unsafe. The disqualifications to obtain a concealed carry permit included in Virginia’s own gun laws hardly seem overly strict. In mass shootings, we often hear of the shooter’s background of mental illness or a criminal record. Virginia refuses to grant permits to those with documented histories of mental illness, those under restraining orders, or those who have tried to harm or have harmed other people. If we are concerned with public safety, all states should keep concealed carry permits out of the hands of those who are most likely to endanger others.
We see new reports of shootings nearly every week. Virginia has personal ties to these tragedies, with the on-air shooting of a reporter and cameraman in Roanoke, Virginia earlier this year, and the massacre at Virginia Tech in 2007. In the wake of public shootings, federal and state politicians grapple with how to reduce violence without trampling on constitutional rights. But it is about time to do something, and the historically gun-friendly Virginia is leading the way by asking: why not start with enforcing the gun laws we already have?
Kate Clark is a 2017 MPP candidate at the University of Virginia Frank Batten School of Leadership and Public Policy. She serves as a Staff Writer for the Third Rail blog.