Senate Bill 626 raises concerns over temporary weapons permit

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Blacksburg, Va., Feb. 16, 2016 — Emergency Escape: The Women’s Center of the New River Valley offers many resources on their website, including an “Emergency Escape” tab for those afraid of being seen on the website. Photo: Samantha Hill

State bills allowing for victims of domestic violence to have a temporary concealed weapons permit is under scrutiny. On Feb. 15, 2016, the state senate moved to amend and reenact Senate Bill 626, adding more specifics to the controversial bill.

The bill gives domestic violence victims protected by an unexpired protective order the right to carry a concealed handgun for 45 days after the protective order was issued. The victims must be 21 years of age or older and cannot be prohibited from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm. The adjoining state House Bill 766 was passed on Feb. 3. Lt. Andy Wilburn of the Radford City Police Department says he has mixed emotions when it comes to this bill, because it is not a cure-all solution.

“You have people that are in fear, so they’re going to be on edge anyway, and you put that distress in their mind, and they have a weapon,” said Wilburn. “There are a lot of factors that must be considered.”

Pat Brown, the executive director of the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley, has made efforts to contact local representatives to stop this bill and plans to reach out to Gov. Terry McAuliffe to see what can be done from this point.

“Essentially it is to add a gun more easily than usual and to add it to a volatile, violent, chaotic situation,” said Wilburn. “I think it’s insane. It has outraged me more than a lot of things that have happened.”

Brown has worked in the domestic violence field for roughly 35 years. She says there are many factors to consider with this bill. She says in some cases, victims of domestic violence are essentially brainwashed and may not be able to stand up to their abusers. With a bill like this, it’s possible that the aggressor could overpower a victim not used to using a gun. Finally, if a victim does use the gun under this bill, it’s still likely he or she will end up in prison.

“It is a lose-lose-lose situation here, and I think it is just outrageous,” said Brown.

Wilburn says one of the resources in place already for victims of domestic violence is the Lethality Assessment Program (LAP). According to their website, the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV) created LAP in 2005 and it is now used in 34 states. If a law enforcement officer suspects a domestic violence situation, he or she screens the victim and puts them in contact with a local women’s center.

Radford enacted their LAP about a year ago and works directly with the Women’s Resource Center of the New River Valley. According to Brown, the town of Pulaski is looking to start their own LAP within the year. Wilburn says this program helps when violence hasn’t occurred yet.

“If there’s violence, we’re going to make an arrest, but what if it’s just been an argument? We’re still going to screen and try to create a safe environment for both parties,” said Wilburn.

In the meantime, Wilburn urges community members to not take the law into their own hands.

“We don’t hesitate, if somebody violates a protective order, to take action and re-arrest the offender.” said Wilburn.

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