by Bob Barr
Virginia is the birthplace of America’s independence and the state that gave us such towering patriots as Patrick Henry, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, and James Madison. Today, however, the Commonwealth is home to a governor and legislative majority that proposes to do what the British Crown never could: disarm the citizenry by force.
When reporting on parts of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposals for gun control first broke over the summer, the barely believable extremism could easily have been mistaken as fake news. Now, after the November election which gave Democrat Northam majorities in both houses of the state legislature, it is clear the former practicing physician is deadly serious in targeting not only gun owners and retailers but even self-defense experts.
His objectives are sweeping, and include among other measures, bans on so-called “assault weapons,” high capacity magazines, and suppressors; universal background checks; handgun purchasing limits; a “red flag” law; and a ban on any self-defense classes that conceivably could be construed as hostile to government interests.
“Assault rifles” would be redefined to that of the discredited 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban; a cosmetically driven definition that makes illegal common sporting rifles enjoyed by millions of law-abiding Americans, simply because they “look mean.” Shotguns and pistols with similar accessory feature likewise would be banned under the proposed legislation. Furthermore, the bills would also ban sound suppressors, a crucial safety device for home defense, along with magazines that have a capacity greater than the arbitrary 10 rounds long favored by gun control advocates.
The legislation filed in June, expanded this fall, and now being readied for the new legislature to be sworn in next month contains stiff penalties for violations. Possession, sale, or transfer of a banned firearm would be a Class 6 felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and/or a $2,500 fine. The possession, sale or transfer of banned high capacity magazines would carry a similar fine and up to 12-months in prison.
Initially, the legislation set a window of one year for citizens to sell, destroy, or surrender what would become illegal firearms and accessories, or be subjected to criminal prosecution. The updated legislation filed last month, however, lacks this amnesty window, making the possession of these items immediately illegal upon the measure being signed into law. This is ex post facto confiscation whether Northam and his cohorts call it so or not. It is as gross an affront to the Bill of Rights drafted by Madison and made a part of our Constitution in 1791, as any since the infamous, and thankfully short-lived Alien and Sedition Acts signed in 1798.
In response to early public backlash, Northam said recently the pending legislation would include a “grandfather” clause allowing Virginians to keep what they already own (how generous!). This “concession” not only undercuts the purported “public safety” urgency rationale of the ban but is in direct contrast to what already has been proposed. Virginia gun owners would be foolish to believe such promises so facilely mouthed by Northam.
Moreover, the Governor’s “grandfather” clause comes with strings attached; including the requirement to register the to-be-banned items with the state. Such a listing would expose gun owners to serious privacy incursions by state officials, and abusive Freedom of Information Act requests by anti-gun activists meant to shame firearm owners and put them in direct harm of harassment and theft. A registry also ensures these would be the first individuals to have law enforcement knocking down their doors when the inevitable forced confiscation finally comes, or a “red flag protective” order issued.
Even more chilling is the suggestion made last week by State Rep. Donald McEachin that Northam may need to activate the Virginia National Guard to enforce the law, as a result of the growing number of counties and municipalities that have declared themselves to be “gun sanctuaries,” where unconstitutional gun control laws will not be enforced by local police. While Northam did not admit openly this was an option, he did say that “there are going to be consequences” if the law is not enforced, but that he will “cross that bridge if and when we get to it.” With some 90 percent of Virginia counties already declaring themselves to be such sanctuaries, it appears Northam may be at that bridge now.
If measures such as these actually are signed into law, the Commonwealth’s motto, sic semper tyrannis, would need to be changed to the more accurate, detrahere arma —“to disarm”