As the Virginia General Assembly, newly under Democratic control, begins to consider an array of firearms-related bills — more than 100 have been introduced, so far — one measure has drawn criticism from both sides of the gun debate.
Under a narrowly tailored proposal introduced Wednesday, the shooting range at the National Rifle Association’s headquarters in Fairfax would appear to be illegal. The measure outlaws the operation of a privately owned indoor range at a building where 50 or more employees work.
Andrew Goddard, the legislative director of the Virginia Center for Public Safety, which supports stronger gun safety laws, said he could think of no range in the state that matches what’s described in the the bill other than the one the NRA operates at its headquarters. He said the measure was clearly meant to “poke the NRA in the eye.”
“I think it was a very ill-advised move,” Goddard added. “It’s actually counterproductive.”
Goddard told The Trace that he was speaking in a private capacity, not on behalf of the center, because he’d not discussed the bill with his board of directors.
Ammoland, the gun-rights news website, could identify only one other shooting range in the state that could face closure under the proposal.
Delegate Dan Helmer is the bill’s sponsor. Helmer is a Democrat and West Point graduate who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. The NRA range is near his district. In November, he defeated a Republican incumbent in an election that gave control of state government to Democrats for the first time in more than two decades and made stricter gun laws a likelihood in Virginia.
That prospect has led to raucous and at times ugly debate. A recent fundraising email that Helmer sent included screenshots of a violent threat made against him online and another comment that targeted his Jewish faith, according to a Virginia Public media report.
Helmer did not respond to requests for comment. Speaking to the Prince William Times, he said, “Yes, this plan would affect the NRA, we also think it will save lives.”
Goddard, whose son was injured in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting that killed 32 people, said there were plenty of good reasons to “pick on” the NRA, but operating a gun range wasn’t among them.
“If gun owners don’t get the chance to train,” he said, “then we are going to have more untrained gun owners walking around with weapons, and that’s not going to make us any safer.”
In a later text exchange, Goddard referenced the massive number of proposed bills dealing with firearms in the mix as the General Assembly’s session got underway on Wednesday. He likened Helmer’s bill to one of the “eccentric” proposals that state GOP lawmakers had made in the past and predicted that “cooler heads” would ensure the measure went nowhere.
“I am going to talk to the man myself,” Goddard said, referring to Helmer.
The Trace invited the NRA to comment, but got no immediate response.