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Virginia's Compromise Gun Bill: Something for Everyone, or Too Many Giveaways?

Compromise gun control legislation approved by the Virginia General Assembly in early February is being heralded as a “win for both sides” by those involved in the negotiations, if only because that is the way Gov. Terry McAuliffe wants it described.

McAuliffe also said the bill heralded “the first meaningful steps on preventing gun violence in 23 years.”

“I have always believed that these gun issues are nonpartisan issues and there is room for more bipartisan cooperation in reaching this goal,” McAuliffe said.

Nonpartisan it might have been, but the deal stretched the patience of both sides to the breaking point.

“I think I’ve aged 40 years in two weeks,” Sen. Bryce Reeves (R) said when the final deal was announced in late January.

The Washington Post reported the agreement was nearly trashed Jan. 29, though, when Republican House Delegate C. Todd Gilbert told a radio audience in Richmond it was a “huge expansion of gun rights.”

“I’d make that deal every day of the week,” Gilbert told the WRVA audience. “Folks on the other side of the aisle…they’re pretty upset with the governor this morning. That’s a pretty good barometer for me.”

The deal was put back together when the gun-rights side of the table agreed to legislation that would increase the penalty when people named in permanent protection orders were caught with a weapon, from a misdemeanor to a felony.

The bill would also prohibit someone under a permanent protection order from possessing a firearm. If they owned a gun when the PPO was issued, they would have 24 hours to give it away or sell it to someone who doesn’t have a court order hanging over his or her head.

Before this legislation was approved, people under PPOs were not allowed to purchase or transport a weapon. But they could keep the guns they had owned before the PPO was issued.

Kristi VanAudenhove, the executive director of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, said the new legislation takes guns away from domestic abusers.

“As an advocacy group that has been trying to accomplish this for years, it is a very big deal,” said VanAudenhove.

But she also admitted the legislation is not perfect because it lets an abuser keep his gun for 24 hours. And a lot can go tragically wrong in a day.

“Is it perfect? No. But I’m very much in the camp that when we have these type of divisive issues and both parties can come together to an agreement, that’s really important and it’s definitely a step forward,” VanAudenhove said.

Gun control advocates had to give something, too. They agreed to let Virginia set up concealed weapons permit reciprocity deals with every state in the U.S. that offers them. That legislation allows people to bring concealed weapons into Virginia as long as they have the right paperwork in their wallet from one of those states.

However, the legislation also prevents what is called “state shopping,” where someone who is refused a gun permit in Virginia crosses state lines to get a permit and then comes home with a legal weapon in his pocket.

The primary legislation in the trio of bills that Gov. McAuliffe was pushing and the NRA was fighting gives Virginia State Police the authority to do background checks on behalf of private citizens selling weapons at gun shows, who feel it is their duty to make sure they aren’t selling a firearm to a dangerous person.

The bill also requires Virginia State Police to have troopers at every firearm show in the Commonwealth to perform those background checks on a voluntary basis.

The three-bill package was approved by the Virginia Senate on Feb. 5 and the House five days later.

Gilbert, during the press conference that was held to announce the final, definitive agreement, admitted he “got a little ahead of myself” during the radio interview. But he also stressed the agreement was a “genuine compromise in the Virginia way. This is not about winners and losers. This is about doing the best thing for the Commonwealth of Virginia.”

Brian Coy, Gov. McAuliffe’s spokesman, said the deal was stronger than it was before Gilbert inadvertently made life tougher for the pro-gun lobby.

After all was said and done and sent to his office to be signed, Gov. McAuliffe called the final agreement a “historic accord that will increase public safety…and save lives.”

However, John Feinblatt, the president of Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown for Gun Safety group, called the legislation that moves Virginia into the concealed weapons reciprocity arena “a dangerous gift to the gun lobby.”

Philip Van Cleave, who is the president Virginia Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun rights group, told the Virginian-Pilot the compromise represented a “very rare coming together,” and his group would stay neutral on the bill that took weapons away from people served with permanent protection orders.

Jeanette Richardson, whose son was murdered outside her home in 2004, was angered by the deal struck by McAuliffe. Richardson told WTKR-TV the agreement was a “definite betrayal.”

Richardson, who said she has always been a supporter of Gov. McAuliffe, understands that compromise is essential, but “to see this sidestep, he’s jumped into a hole.”