By Melissa Quinn
As the nation continues to debate gun control in the wake of the Newtown mass shooting, Alexandria’s state lawmakers have joined in the fray, drafting legislation aimed at tightening firearm laws.
State Sen. Adam Ebbin (D-30) and Delegate Rob Krupicka (D-45) have introduced a plethora of bills, including outlawing firearms in Richmond’s legislative buildings and setting aside dollars for school safety improvements.
One bill filed with the General Assembly prohibits the sale of firearms to those found legally incompetent or mentally incapacitated; admitted to a mental health facility or sent for voluntary outpatient mental health treatment; or who were the subject of a temporary detention order and agreed to voluntary admission to a mental health facility.
“It’s common sense,” Ebbin said. “We have to make sure that no one can get away with giving or selling a gun to someone who has been committed or mentally incompetent.”
And just as potential buyers must undergo a background check, so should sellers under a bill sponsored by Ebbin. The state senator also has lobbied fellow legislators to make it a class three misdemeanor for those who fail to report a lost or stolen firearm.
“When a gun is stolen, a deadly weapon is in criminal hands — a combination we all want to avoid,” he said in a statement. “Reporting lost or stolen guns can help police avert a tragedy.”
Krupicka’s focus has shifted from gun control legislation to mental health. The newly elected delegate filed three bills on the topic since arriving in Richmond.
“Together these bills represent the kind of swift action I believe we need to keep our schools and communities safe,” Krupicka said in a statement. “They give new tools and flexibility to communities so that they can better protect themselves from dangerous situations. I am looking forward to working with colleagues from both parties on these and other measures to keep our schools and communities safe.”
After speaking with a community service board and mental health professionals, Krupicka’s first piece of legislation calls for creating a mental health first aid training plan. If passed, funding would create a course that instructs teachers and school personnel on how to identify potential risk factors and signs of mental illness.
Though the bill still is in the preliminary stages, it has received bipartisan support.
“We can prevent some of those issues from turning into more significant problems later,” Krupicka said.
He also drafted legislation to free up money for schools to make safety improvements. The Flexible School Security Act grants schools the power to add cameras or hire more school resource officers, among other security upgrades.
“I want to make sure our local schools have the flexibility to implement the safety improvements they [deem] more important,” he said. Currently, the state designates how schools use the funds.
While Krupicka’s bills highlighting mental illness and school security have received support on both sides of the aisle, his third and final bill faces the most roadblocks. If signed into law, an individual would be required to alert authorities if they hear another person threatening to harm themselves or a third party. Police would then have the power to seize firearms or ammunition from the individual if they deem the threat plausible.
“It’s designed to respond to something I even hear conservatives say,” Krupicka said. “My hope is I can find some common ground with folks who have said that and structure this bill to meet their goal as well as mine.”
However, Alexandria’s Richmond lobbyist Bernard Caton told city council Tuesday night that the bills have little chance of passage.
While only a small proportion of bills filed end up on the governor’s desk in any given year, the likelihood of gun control legislation being passed by the General Assembly is minimal given its makeup. Republicans control the House while the Senate remains evenly split between the two parties.
Caton, though, urged council to pass a resolution in support of gun control legislation.
Despite facing resistance from fellow lawmakers, Ebbin and Krupicka are confident they can garner support from their Republican counterparts.
“We’re down here to try,” Krupicka said. “So I’m not going to not try.”