Gov. Terry McAuliffe plans to veto a bill that would prevent government agencies from enforcing gun bans at emergency shelters, a spokesman said Tuesday.
“He doesn’t believe that we should be injecting more firearms into situations that are often fraught and sometimes dangerous,” spokesman Brian Coy said.
HB 2077 would have revised the Emergency Services and Disaster Law of 2000 by removing a government entity’s authority to “limit lawful possession, carrying, transportation, sale or transfer of firearms in any place or facility used by the governmental entity as an emergency shelter.”
The bill — which passed the House of Delegates 65-34 and the Senate 21-19 — was sponsored by Del. Tony Wilt, R-Rockingham, and Del. Ron Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach.
Wilt said Tuesday that he introduced the legislation to prevent government officials — including McAuliffe — from using a state or local disaster as a pretense to “disarm citizens.” He said his office consulted with attorneys, who concluded that the bill would not affect schools with policies that prohibit weapons.
“Even in the private sector, if they have a prohibition on firearms, those hold,” Wilt said.
But the bill prompted concern among some police chiefs, said Dana Schrad, executive director of the Virginia Association of Chiefs of Police. Schrad said the change could create confusion among those who need shelter services, and could increase demands on law enforcement officials, who would have to account for the presence of armed people at shelters.
“If you’re responding to an emergency, a natural disaster, are you then also going to have to respond to a situation where you don’t know who’s armed?” Schrad said.
Wilt said he understands those concerns but said the underlying issue is whether the state should trust residents to defend themselves or whether residents should trust police and fire services.
“I would trust [residents] the same whether in their own home, or whether they’re out traveling with a vehicle, to know when they need to protect themselves,” Wilt said.
Roanoke and Roanoke County officials said area shelters are generally staffed by the American Red Cross, which prohibits weapons in shelters.
“If we don’t have the staffing for the shelters, it’s not out of the possibility that a shelter wouldn’t open,” Roanoke County Police Chief Howard Hall said.
Hall said the proposed bill concerned him because it would take away local agencies’ abilities to decide what policies work best for them.
“I think it’s safe to say that I’m not a gun control proponent,” he said. “But currently, local government has the ability to decide what would be allowed in the shelter, which is something that local government should be able to decide.”