Virginia House Delegate Mark Levine would be amusing if he wasn’t so serious.
The Democrat who represents portions of Alexandria, an area just a short row down the banks of the Potomac River from Washington D.C., held a town hall to explain what his bill, HB 961, would do. It would be easy to mistake his pantomime for a comedy sketch. Except, that is, he’s acting out every misnomer and stereotype of a lawmaker who doesn’t know the first thing about the firearms he’s attempting to outlaw.
Del. Levine attempted to distinguish between “legitimate” hunting rifles and “assault weapons” by acting out typecasts and repeating false narratives of how the rifles work. He never considered for a moment that Virginians hunt with the “scary-looking” modern sporting rifles, or that his facts about mass murder events with firearms were completely wrong.
Del. Levine ignores that modern sporting rifles – or MSRs – are semiautomatic rifles, with one round fired for each squeeze of the trigger. It’s technology that’s over 100 years old and functions in the same manner as many handguns and shotguns. They are not “more powerful,” as he claims. In fact, Virginia requires the use of more powerful calibers for deer hunting than the AR-15’s which is most commonly chambered in 223-caliber. The characteristics that Del. Levine uses to disqualify are cosmetic and have bearing of function of the rifle, only make it easier to operate safely.
He never considered for a moment that Virginians hunt with the modern sporting rifles in larger calibers either, or that his facts about mass murder events with firearms were completely wrong. In fact, murders for 2018 across the United States with any rifle accounted for just 2.1 percent, at 297. Murders by hands, fists and feet were more than double at 672 and murder committed with knives or cutting instruments were more than five times that by rifle, at 1,515.
Facts be damned, though, for Del. Levine. He explained his bill to ban so-called “assault weapons” and “extended magazines” would reduce murders, just like he claims it did with the Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. Except, that’s not what happened. The CDC investigated and concluded that the gun control laws had nothing to do with the crime reduction rates and those falling crimes rates continued to fall after the ban expired in 2004.
“Our bill allows people to keep their weapons, including their AR-15s and the like,” he explained. “They can keep their weapons, but we’ve asked them to do what people do with their machine guns when they were banned in 1934, to basically get a permit so we know where they are so they aren’t used by criminals.”
Del. Levine likened law-abiding Virginians who own modern sporting rifles to 1920’s era gangsters. The comparison, he alleges, is that the possibly hundreds of thousands of Virginians who lawfully and peacefully own MSRs today, are criminals-in-waiting, just itching to commit horrendous crimes with their rifles.
The peaceful protests in Richmond proved otherwise, if the decades of rifle ownership in Virginia weren’t proof enough. Del. Levine invoked the tragic murders in Virginia Beach, but failed to acknowledge those crimes were committed with a handgun. He demonized the use of a suppressor but ignored two handguns were used and only one of those was fitted with a suppressor, or that local Virginia Beach ordinance banned use of suppressors. Police responding the crimes committed in a “gun-free zone” where law-abiding citizens were denied their right to self-defense told reporters they distinctly heard gunfire and followed it to confront the murderer. The use of suppressors, which are legal in 42 states, in the commission of crimes is so rare it is barely measurable.
Delegate Levine didn’t propose a measure to increase penalties for those who criminally misuse firearms. He didn’t offer solutions to punish those who use firearms to prey on society or carry guns into schools or even those areas already declared “gun-free.”
The hard facts don’t lie but do demonstrate HB 961 is an attempt to demonize and ostracize law-abiding Virginian gun owners by making them criminals unless they surrender their rights to Virginia authorities by way of a permission slip to exercise their God-given rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution. It does nothing to reduce crime or make communities safer.
Perhaps Levine and his colleagues should listen to Virginians, rather that insult and demagogue them.
Larry Keane is Senior Vice President of Government and Public Affairs and General Counsel for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the firearms industry trade association.