THE SHOOTING, Hunting and Outdoor Trade (SHOT) Show, sponsored by the National Shooting Sports Foundation, begins in

11 days. This is the event where you can check out the latest firearms and gear destined for retailers.

This year, after attending for 17 years, I’m staying home. There is too much uproar relative to Virginians possibly losing or seeing severely restricted their right to own firearms. Anti-gun bills for the 2020 General Assembly session have been coming down faster than snowflakes over Loudoun County.

The National Rifle Association scheduled a rallying day Jan. 13 in Richmond. The Virginia Citizens Defense League promises an even bigger rally on “lobby day” Jan. 20. Social media is ablaze. One new Facebook page, Virginia Rising, saw its membership grow to more than 73,000 in just a month.

My Nov. 28 column reported the pre-filing of two pieces of proposed anti-gun legislation.

Incoming Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw’s (D-Fairfax) Senate Bill 16 worries hunters, recreational shooters and Second Amendment proponents. It makes illegal many modern, semi-automatic, centerfire sporting rifles.

Saslaw’s SB 18 contains a bombshell provision criminalizing a youngster’s use, if under age 18, of firearms without adult supervision and makes it a crime to sell firearms to anyone under age 21. Of course, people can vote and join the military at 18, and drive motor vehicles independently at 16. Many kids routinely hunt on their own by age 12 and must buy adult hunting licenses at age 16.

This proposed bill also specifies that anyone transferring a gun must first verify the purchaser isn’t prohibited from owning a firearm under state or federal law, part of closing the “gun show loophole” that’s been pushed for years.

Interestingly, these two bills sport differing language to define an “assault rifle.” One says it’s any gun with a magazine that can hold more than 20 rounds of ammunition or accommodate a silencer, or has a folding stock. The other is broader, saying it’s any semiautomatic centerfire rifle with a fixed magazine capacity over 10 rounds. That bill (SB 16) also makes illegal any semiautomatic, centerfire rifle with a detachable magazine that has things such as a folding or telescoping stock, pistol grip, thumbhole stock, muzzle brake or threaded barrel capable of accepting a silencer.

Silencers, more appropriately called suppressors, are common in many countries. Countless people suffering hearing loss in the United States today would be better off if they, too, had been able to dampen firearm noise. All a muzzle brake does is lessen felt recoil.

The two bills also don’t agree on the minimum age to transport “certain firearms.” Senate Bill 18 sets it at 21 years; SB 16 has it at 18.

These bills would make instant felons out of many thousands of law-abiding gun owners, unless they, presumably, hand over certain guns. In response, more than 100 localities have resolved, via the “Second Amendment Sanctuary” or “Constitutional County” movement, to defy perceived, anti-constitutional gun grabs. Virginia Governor Ralph Northam’s office issued a statement as this movement rocketed across the commonwealth, offering to “grandfather” existing AR-15s as long as owners registered them. That will fly about as far as Icarus with his wax wings.

It is always mass shootings, no matter the type firearm used, that spawn shrill calls for banning all modern, scary-looking rifles—of which about 17 million are estimated to be in American homes today.

Are Rifles the Problem?

The Free Lance-Star’s Facebook page published Dec. 28 an Associated Press & USA TODAY study of mass killings in our country. The report noted that 41 mass killings, defined as four or more people killed by a perpetrator, were reported in 2019. Thirty-three of those were mass shootings, with 211 people dying. Almost half of these shootings related to family violence. Public mass shootings were far less common with 10 in 2019, resulting in 76 deaths, not including the assailants. Two shootings, one in Dayton, Ohio, where the assailant reportedly used an AR-style rifle and the other in Virginia Beach, where the perpetrator used a handgun, accounted for nearly half the fatalities.

In reviewing the report’s 102 incident summaries from 2017 through 2019, where the weapon was identified, handguns were clearly the most commonly used firearm, about three times that of rifles or shotguns. References to mental health issues were cited in at least 14 cases. Mental health issues stood out when it came to the 9 crimes using a rifle. Gang and drug-related violence was specifically cited in another 15 percent of the cases. “Hate” crime was referenced in just 3 or 4 summaries.

Of the total mass killings over the last three years, 21 were accomplished without using any firearm, according to the report—or more than double the amount where perpetrators used a rifle. Ninety-seven people were killed by means other than firearms in these incidents.

Another report shows 1,028 Virginians dying by guns in 2017; 674 were suicides. All are regrettable. All speak to broader societal problems. Why law-abiding adults, kids, gun ranges and certain firearms are being targeted is the legitimate question.

I watched the parade of citizens speaking at Tuesday afternoon’s Prince William County Board of Supervisors’ meeting. There were many eloquent speakers, using data-driven analysis and commentary to debunk proposed bans. The county passed a constitutional county resolution in December, but in an apparent attempt at political double-speak the new Democrat Party board majority attempted to pass at its first meeting an additional resolution urging the General Assembly to address gun violence in Virginia by passing gun safety legislation. It was deferred two weeks.

That same day, presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg, who was visiting Virginia, and Northam gave news conferences where they said there are no plans to confiscate guns. Bloomberg was quoted as saying, “Nobody’s trying to take away anybody’s handguns ... or rifles or shotguns. What we’re trying to do is have sensible gun regulations.” Northam said, “We’re not going to go door-to-door and confiscate individuals’ weapons.”

They don’t seem to have read the proposed legislation. When certain, previously legal firearms are banned and illegal to possess, that is tantamount to confiscation. It makes owners felons. And once convicted as felons, people are unable to possess legally any firearms.

There is precious little in these anti-gun bills to address the root causes behind what is popularly called “gun violence.” For years, people wanting “commonsense” gun control stated, “This isn’t about taking away your guns.”

Well, we’ll see.

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