Governor McAuliffe’s Problematic Deal on Guns

Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe and I have at least one thing in common: Our roots. We both spring from the rich soil of Upstate New York, he from Syracuse, I just down the New York State Thruway near Rochester. And we both ended up, years later, calling Northern Virginia home.

I had no reason to believe our paths would cross until my daughter Mary was shot to death at Virginia Tech along with 31 others on April 16, 2007. In the years since, I have come to know Governor McAuliffe as a businessman, politician, candidate, and eventually in the Governor’s mansion.

Until a couple weeks ago, I thought the governor was a man I could absolutely trust on issues of gun violence prevention.

Then I found out — only a week after he stood with us at the Bell Tower in Richmond vowing to take on the gun lobby — that McAuliffe had cut a deal with them requiring Virginia to recognize concealed carry permits from every state that issues one. If the governor had walked right up to me and punched me in the gut, I couldn’t have been more surprised and shocked.

Just recently I got a form email from McAuliffe’s office thanking me for writing to him about my concerns. It was unsigned, but the Governor’s spokesman implied to the press that those of us expressing reservations about this dubious deal were from out of state — in a word, not “real” Virginians. I hope the Governor and his spokesman have had a chat about that.

In light of the deal-making here in Virginia, leadership from lawmakers, governors and anyone seeking to become president on this issue is more important than ever.

Those seeking to represent us need to tell us where they stand on concealed carry reciprocity. We need to know if they stand with the gun lobby and the lowest standards, or if they value gun safety and laws that respect both the Second Amendment and public safety.

The Governor and his supporters have trumpeted this deal as an historic bipartisan agreement, but the deal deserves further scrutiny. It incorporates a worthy, if incomplete, bill making those subject to permanent domestic violence protective orders unable to possess guns. While I would prefer to see this measure include a clear surrender provision, I hope this will be a good first step, nonetheless. A second prong of this deal is less compelling — it would have the State Police conduct voluntary background checks at gun shows — but a voluntary background check is just that: voluntary.

My deep concerns stem not from those provisions, but from the centerpiece of this deal: allowing dangerous people from other states to carry hidden, loaded weapons in the Commonwealth — states with weak laws that give concealed carry permits to people with zero training on gun safety and with convictions for stalking and assault. Even Virginia’s own residents would be able to end-run our stronger in-state permitting system by obtaining those out-of-state permits and carrying back at home, in spite of Senator Chap Petersen’s much-vaunted “state shopping” amendment. To be clear: Ineligible Virginia residents — prohibited by our standards from qualifying for a permit — could “state shop” and carry here under this bill.

This seems like a historically bad idea, and it’s no theoretical danger. Many states have shockingly loose permitting standards that should not be replicated: Arkansas authorities will grant concealed carry permits to people who’ve been convicted of stalking. Alabama lacks any training requirements whatsoever in its permitting process. Tennessee allows people with numerous assault convictions to acquire permits. And Florida does not run a full background check on permit applicants and will issue permits to non-Florida residents — so anyone not up to their home state’s permitting standards could just apply for a Florida permit via mail.

I have over two decades’ active military service. I know how critical it is that someone carrying a hidden handgun in public have undergone a background check, have a clean criminal record and have training in safely handling guns. That’s why I am calling on the Governor to veto the concealed carry bill stemming from his deal, especially because enactment of the other bills is not contingent on him signing this one.

The NRA’s leadership has long pushed a race to the bottom on permitting standards for people who wish to carry hidden loaded weapons in public — trying to force states with stronger laws, like Virginia, to recognize permits from states with weak laws. In some states, the gun lobby tries to erase reasonable safety permitting standards altogether, as a current effort to dismantle concealed carry permits in West Virginia would. The gun lobby has also been unsuccessfully pushing this at the federal level for 10 years.

We need to reject concealed carry reciprocity and lowest common denominator permitting standards, electing a president who will stand strong against the gun lobby’s federal priority, as well as state leaders who won’t yield to pressure to deliver state by state.

Looking to the future, politicians must realize that victims of gun violence don’t split neatly along demographic, gender, racial or economic lines. We are not political props, nor are we patsies for one side or another in a long-running debate. We are real, flesh-and-blood human beings who have a stake in the outcome of these calculated political deals.

I ask Governor McAuliffe, and all our political leaders, to remember that we are not beholden to any particular politician or any particular political party when it comes to preventing gun violence. We owe our allegiance in this matter to the memory of our loved ones, and to the lives and burdens of victims of gun violence everywhere.

We care deeply about laws on the concealed carry of handguns in public, as well as protecting victims of domestic violence and universal background checks.

In 2016 and beyond, gun violence survivors will be watching — and voting — based not on candidates’ words, but their actions.

Peter Read is a retired Air Force Lieutenant Colonel. His daughter, Mary, was one of 32 students and faculty killed in the Virginia Tech shooting on April 16, 2007

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