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News and notes on guns in America

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Daily Bulletin: Virginia Vote Cues New Milestone for Universal Background Checks

Good morning, Bulletin readers. Virginia Democrats just took another big step toward passing a slew of new gun reforms despite fierce opposition from Republicans and pro-gun activists. Here’s what the bills would do — and what else to know today.

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THE BATTLE OF VIRGINIA

Virginia lawmakers advanced a landmark slate of gun safety measures. Less than two weeks after gun rights groups and militia members staged a major demonstration outside the Capitol, the Democratic-led House yesterday passed seven bills that would overhaul gun policy in the Old Dominion. Versions of five of the measures have already cleared the state Senate, and Democratic Governor Ralph Northam is expected to sign the reconciled versions that come to his desk. Among the proposals that moved forward on Thursday:

Universal background checks. Twenty-one states and Washington, D.C., go further than federal law by requiring background checks for at least some private gun sales and transfers, according to Giffords. Adding Virginia to the list would mean that more than half of Americans — approximately 52 percent of the population — will be subject to some form of universal background checks.

Extreme risk protection orders. So-called red flag laws provide a tool for disarming legal gun owners who’ve become a clear and imminent danger to themselves or others. The legislation moving in Virginia is relatively narrow, allowing only law enforcement officials or state attorneys to seek orders for temporarily removing firearms from at-risk people. A dozen of the 17 states where extreme risk protection orders are already in place also allow family members to petition for them.

Measures that could curb gun trafficking. One of the bills passed yesterday would set a one-per-month limit on handgun purchases, restoring a restriction the state had from 1993 to 2012, when Republicans repealed it. Virginia is a major source for crime guns recovered outside its borders, and supporters of the bill argue that the cap can help stem trafficking. A separate bill would require gun owners to report lost or stolen guns to police. As The Trace has reported, such mandates may help law enforcement identify gun-running rings.

What other gun reforms moved forward yesterday? A bill that would allow Virginia cities and towns to pass their own gun ordinances (which they are currently forbidden from doing under the state pre-emption law); a requirement that people with permanent restraining orders surrender their guns within 24 hours of being served; and an expansion of a law governing the secure storage of firearms around children. What didn’t: An assault weapons ban. Earlier this month, the state Senate shelved its version of a measure that would restrict sales and ownership of assault-style firearms; the full House has yet to take up its iteration.

WHAT ELSE TO KNOW TODAY

Elizabeth Warren unveiled a sweeping federal gun reform package. The Gun Violence Prevention and Community Safety Act, which the Massachusetts senator and 2020 presidential candidate is co-sponsoring with Democratic Representative Hank Johnson of Georgia, would achieve a laundry list of goals long sought by gun violence prevention advocates: It would require licensing for gun buyers; implement universal background checks; facilitate extreme risk protection orders; ban assault-style rifles and bulk gun purchases; repeal the federal law that protects gun makers and sellers from most lawsuits, and authorize the Consumer Product Safety Commission to set safety standards for firearms. The legislation would also allocate $100 million a year for federal gun violence research and another $100 million for community gun violence prevention programs.

A white supremacist who shot a black man was found guilty of state hate crimes. A Maryland court convicted a former Navy cryptologist with ties to neo-Nazi groups of shooting a black man and assaulting another during a 2018 altercation outside Baltimore, in which the 25-year-old perpetrator reportedly hurled racial epithets.

A Washington State bill would remove guns from owners who abuse vulnerable adults. “In Washington State, dangerous people who are subject to a protection order for violent crimes are required to surrender their firearms,” the sponsor of the novel measure said in a statement to Newsweek. “I was shocked to discover that we don’t provide that same protection to vulnerable adults who are victims of abuse, neglect, or exploitation.”

Hollywood performers join campaign to defund the gun lobby. Ahead of the Academy Awards, the gun control group Guns Down America enlisted more than 100 celebrities to sign an open letter urging major studios to halt contributions to politicians who take money from the National Rifle Association. The organization claims that over the past four years, PACs associated with the studios behind this year’s Best Picture nominees donated a combined $4.2 million to NRA-backed lawmakers.

DATA POINT

186 New Jersey residents have had their guns temporarily seized under the state’s red flag law, which took effect in September. In 25 cases, judges have denied petitions for extreme risk protection orders. — NJ.com