Legislation in Virginia Could Derail Hunting and Conservation

Legislation in Virginia Could Derail Hunting and Conservation

The fight is on in Virginia!

On Monday, Jan. 13, 2020, the Virginia Legislature began considering a wave of proposed gun-control bills. While many of the bills have been touted as measures to promote public safety, a reality that’s been overlooked is that many of these bills could, in fact, damage hunting and hunting participation in Virginia.

The NRA is on the ground in Virginia, fighting to safeguard our Second Amendment rights and defend Virginia’s hunting, hunting heritage and wildlife conservation. "Gov. Northam's gun control bills are straight from Michael Bloomberg's gun-control wish list. These would leave honest, hard-working Virginians defenseless while doing nothing to decrease violent crime. If Bloomberg succeeds in Virginia, he will use this as a template for every state in the country, and nationally when he is elected president. The NRA has been fighting this from the beginning," said D.J. Spiker NRA-ILA state director. "We mobilized our members to contact lawmakers to voice their opposition and had a very successful NRA Legislative Action Day on Jan. 13, resulting in the most egregious gun-control measures, including gun bans and confiscation, being pulled from consideration."

"While the NRA is fighting against every anti-gun bill in Virginia, we're also fighting against every anti-hunting bill in Virginia."—Erica Tergeson, Director of Hunting Policy for NRA-ILA
"While the NRA is fighting against every anti-gun bill in Virginia, we're also fighting against every anti-hunting bill in Virginia," said Director of Hunting Policy for NRA-ILA Erica Tergeson. "While protecting the Second Amendment is our primary mission, protecting the right to hunt is also part of the NRA's mission—it just doesn't get the same coverage—yet our members need to know that we work to protect and expand hunting opportunities year-round."

Consider one such proposal, which began life as Senate Bills 22 and 69 but were combined in committee on Jan. 13, 2020 when they came up for discussion. Among other things, the newly formed bill proposed that citizens could only buy one handgun in any 30-day period.

Let’s say you are a Virginia deer and hog hunter and would like to try handgun hunting. But you also want to purchase a smaller handgun for concealed carry. Well, you can’t get both, not at the same time, anyway, under the one-per-month handgun bill.

And this bill, unfortunately, has already been forwarded out of committee for the larger Legislature to consider.

So, do you buy the concealed carry handgun or the bigger one for hunting? Many people are going to opt for the personal defense option and wait on the hunting model.   

Meanwhile, HB 961 would make it illegal to purchase or possess so-called and extremely misnamed “assault weapons.” These, of course, are the AR-15 and AR-10 platform rifles used by tens of thousands of hunters every year for hunting game large and small. Under HB 961, “importing, selling, transferring, manufacturing, purchasing, possessing or transporting an assault firearm” would be a felony.

So, if all the above-mentioned bills passed, you could only purchase one handgun per month and could not buy an AR-style rifle. One would have to believe such restrictions would also reduce ammunition purchases.

These bills would be a severe blow to Virginia’s hunting and conservation, according to Brian Lynn, director of communications for the Sportsmen’s Alliance, whose Virginia members have also been working to stop these bills.

As Lynn noted, every firearm and ammunition purchase also contributes to Pittman-Robertson conservation program dollars. Any laws that ban or tax put up purchase limits will act as a deterrent for legal purchases and will directly undermine conservation funding.

HB 567 would, if approved, close down any indoor shooting ranges that employ at least 50 people and did not primarily serve law enforcement.
Consider a pair of bills that focus on Virginia shooting ranges. HB 567 would, if approved, close down any indoor shooting ranges that employ at least 50 people and did not primarily serve law enforcement. To stay open, many other expensive and time-consuming restrictions would apply to the owners of these ranges.

Mark Oliva, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, noted that, as drawn up, this bill would close at least four Virginia ranges he knows of, including the National Rifle Association’s indoor range at Fairfax, Va.

“There are 114 indoor ranges in Virginia, generating at least $18 million in sales annually,” Oliva noted. “Shooting ranges, especially these indoor ranges, are community safety assets. They are places where gun owners go to safely practice marksmanship skills.”

He added, “They are also places where trained and certified instructors teach the proper safe handling and storage of firearms. These are the places of business that teach those interested in exercising their right to keep and bear arms the safe and proper manner by which to do that.” 

Meanwhile, Senate Bill 353 would make it illegal to, “operate an outdoor shooting range within 500 yards of any property zoned for residential use…” The bill grants some exceptions, but it’s clear that dozens of Virginia outdoor ranges would close if this law went into effect.

Many of the outdoor ranges are owned and operated by local sportsmen’s clubs. You know, the clubs where hunters practice their marksmanship for hunting seasons? Ranges that hold hunter education classes, new hunter programs and firearms safety education?  And every one of these which gets shut down means fewer people being introduced to hunting and fewer places for hunters to practice.

Of note, the bill to ban AR-style rifles also would make suppressors illegal in Virginia. According to the American Suppressor Association, “Today, over 1,750,000 suppressors are owned by law-abiding citizens in the 42 states that now allow suppressor ownership. Virginia is one such state. According to ATF’s most recent report, in May 2019 there were 60,811 lawfully obtained suppressors in circulation in Virginia. Today, there are likely nearly 70,000.

No doubt, thousands of these suppressors are used by Virginia hunters to protect their hearing while afield. Suppressors also make hunting safer as hunters do not need to wear hearing protection and therefore are more aware of their surroundings.

The NRA-ILA website is updating the Virginia situation regularly and is the best source for late-breaking news. Virginia hunters and conservationists are encouraged to contact their state lawmakers and voice their concerns over the on-going situation in their Legislature.

Follow NRA Hunters' Leadership Forum on Twitter @HuntersLead. 

About the Author: Brian McCombie is a field editor and editorial contributor for the NRA's American Hunter. He writes about firearms and gear for the NRA's Shooting Illustrated website, as well as handling public relations and marketing for companies and manufacturers in the shooting sports industry. He is a member of the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Brian likes hunting hogs, shooting 1911s chambered in 10 mm and .45 ACP, watching the Chicago Bears and relaxing with his two cats, Peanut Morgan and Simon.