The Virginia Crime Commission is being asked to study a potential law that would ban anyone convicted of stalking, sexual battery or physical domestic abuse of a family member from possessing a gun for five years.
Legislation passed the Virginia Senate 29-6, but on Monday the full House Courts of Justice Committee upheld a recommendation by a house subcommittee, to refer the legislation to the crime commission for further study instead.
Senator Barbara Favola, D- Arlington, says the legislation is good common sense. She argues studies show that women in states with higher firearm ownership rates are almost five times more likely to be murdered by a firearm.
“We have to come to a balance,” Favola says. “We have to admit that not everybody can handle a firearm responsibly.”
Lisette Johnson, an advocate fighting for such legislation, says it could save many lives.
Johnson says despite years of verbal abuse and later stalking, she never thought that her husband of 21 years would harm her, until he confronted her with a gun in the fall of 2009.
“He basically said ‘I love you too much to live without you,’ and then he shot me.”
Johnson says their children were in the next room when her husband shot her several times before turning the gun on himself. Johnson believes the tragedy that struck her family, would have never happened if her husband didn’t own a gun.
“He was not someone who was going to kill me with his hands,” Johnson says. “If he had not had a gun, our lives would have been entirely different and my children would still have their father.”
Gun rights groups oppose the legislation because they say it would apply to people convicted of misdemeanors and not felonies.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, says lawmakers should focus on toughening domestic violence laws instead, since federal law already bans violent offenders convicted of felonies from possessing a firearm.
“We’re not arguing over domestic violence or anything else,” Van Cleave says. “It’s very simple, misdemeanors should not take away civil rights.”
Senator Favola says she plans to introduce her legislation again during next year’s General Assembly session.