Crowd packs Richmond Crime Commission hearing on gun control

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RICHMOND, Va. (WDBJ7) As lawmakers in Richmond take another look at gun control in Virginia, dozens of citizens lined up to make their voices heard. It was all part of a hearing before the Virginia State Crime Commission.

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These hearings come after a special session called by the Virginia General Assembly was ended after just an hour and a half. Lawmakers then didn’t debate a single bill designed to address gun violence.

The job of the crime commission this week has been to gather more information surrounding those bills, listening to experts and Tuesday, ordinary Virginians.

They packed the room in Richmond: two sides in the gun control debate, separated by an ideology and an aisle. As lawmakers in the capital take another look at gun control in Virginia, dozens of citizens lined up to make their voices heard.

Newport News Sheriff Gabriel Morgan said, "We can’t effectively protect our citizens as it stands right now," said Morgan.

The Sheriff argued the General Assembly needs to do more to staunch the flow of guns in Virginia, including reviving an old law that limits people to one gun purchase per month.

"I am tired of looking at crime scenes that have 15- and 13-year-olds," said Morgan.

However, plenty of others argued against new gun control measures, and some, including Virginia Citizens Defense League President Phillip Van Cleave, encouraged lawmakers to roll back existing gun laws.

"Every time some miscreant commits a mass murder, gun owners brace," said Van Cleve.

In particular, Van Cleve took aim at limiting so-called gun-free zones, places like schools and churches where carrying guns is currently prohibited.

"A citizen should be able to protect his life and his family’s life wherever he goes," he said.

Van Cleve’s pro-gun message was echoed by plenty of others Tuesday, including Vincent Smith, who works in Building 2 at the Virginia Beach Municipal Complex, the site of the May mass shooting.

"The remainder of the bills before you would not have made a single difference on May 31st," said Smith.

Gun control advocates, meanwhile, argued for a raft of proposals, including expanding background checks and implementing red flag laws, which allow guns to be temporarily removed of the home of someone considered a danger to themselves or others.

"Properly drafted and implemented, these laws ensure public safety while respecting my constitutional rights," said Leanna Fox, a gun control activist from Crozet.

It will now be up to the 13-member crime commission to take up these laws, and make a recommendation to the general assembly later this year.

"We’re going to have a wide range of options and an opportunity at the end of this process to act upon them," said Sen. Mark Obenchain, the chair of the committee.

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