Brentin Mock is a staff writer at CityLab. He was previously the justice editor at Grist.
The state stopped honoring permits obtained in states with weaker gun laws, but not for very long.
Second Amendment enthusiasts scored a victory Friday when Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe announced that the state is reversing the restrictions on concealed weapons put in place by Attorney General Michael Herring just last month. Those restrictions ended reciprocity clauses honoring concealed-carry permits obtained in 25 other states with looser gun laws than Virginia.
Under a new agreement McAuliffe worked out with both Democrats and Republicans in the state legislature, that reciprocity will be restored. In exchange, the state will beef up its gun laws slightly: State police will perform voluntary background checks for certain sellers at gun shows, and anyone under a permanent protective order cannot own a gun. In addition, if a Virginia-issued permit was revoked from a gun owner, the state will not honor an out-of-state permit issued to that person.
These are important steps to take toward reducing gun violence, especially for those vulnerable to domestic violence. But they definitely don’t go as far in reducing gun circulation as the restrictions Herring set last December. Those were badly needed. Virginia does have its own set of disqualifications for people applying for a concealed-carry permit, but (now, just as before the scuttled restrictions) rejected applicants can simply go to a state with weaker standards to get a permit, then come back to Virginia.
Last summer, Herring’s office sent out surveys to the states Virginia has reciprocity with, asking them to review their concealed-carry laws and see if they matched Virginia’s burden for permit approval. This kind of audit is supposed to occur annually, as permit criteria can change over time. That wasn’t happening. As state Assistant Attorney General Charles A. Quagliato wrote in a memo about the audit last September:
I should note that this is the first time since I have joined the [Office of the Attorney General], in November 2006, that the OAG has reviewed the laws of the various states that Virginia recognizes the foreign state’s concealed weapon permit. Since November 2006, the disqualifications for a concealed handgun permit have been amended several times.
The survey results revealed that the grand bulk of reciprocity states did not set criteria as high as Virginia’s for approving concealed-carry permits. In some cases, the differences were only technical: In Virginia, your permit will be denied or revoked if you make a false statement on the application, while in some other states, they’ll let you re-apply.
But in many cases, the differences are much more striking. For example, you can’t get a concealed-carry permit in Virginia if you have prior violent assault charges on your criminal record. But Arizona, Idaho, Kansas, Minnesota, Nebraska, and North Carolina have no comparable disqualifiers. A few more reciprocity states would grant the permits to people who have misdemeanor assault charges on their records.
Virginia also rejects concealed-carry applicants who are receiving mental health treatment, who lack proper gun safety training, who courts or law enforcement have deemed a potential “endangerment to others,” and those convicted of two or more misdemeanors. Many of the states in the audit did not meet those criteria, either.
Probably most alarming is that while Virginia automatically disqualifies anyone who’s been convicted of stalking from getting the permit, a number of reciprocity states—Kansas, Kentucky, Nebraska, and North Dakota—do not. Arkansas, Florida, Minnesota, and Tennessee overlook misdemeanor stalking convictions. So while the new Virginia agreement creates a special clause for permit seekers with permanent protection orders out against them, the restoration of reciprocity still welcomes some stalkers from other states.
“Governor McAuliffe should not be willing to recognize concealed-carry permits from states where you can get a permit with no safety training, or even if you have a violent criminal record or a stalking conviction—all in exchange for the NRA’s support of watered-down gun safety bills,” said Andy Parker, the father of Allison Parker, a Virginia news reporter who was shot dead on live TV last August.
Herring was just at the White House on January 5, praising President Obama’s announcement about modest new federal gun controls.
“Background checks, like concealed handgun reciprocity agreements, are how we enforce the laws already on the books about who can and cannot lawfully possess or conceal a weapon,” said Herring of the announcement. “Strongly enforcing these laws makes it harder for a gun to get into the hands of a dangerous person who might hurt themselves, someone else, or commit a crime.”
Less than a month later, that enforcement is already eroding in Virginia.