At the October 14th meeting of the Richmond City Council meeting, Mayor Levar M. Stoney will propose two ordinances promoting public safety: an ordinance requiring the reporting of lost or stolen firearms and an ordinance prohibiting driving while distracted using a handheld communication device.
Any person who loses a gun or has one stolen in the City of Richmond will be required to report the loss or theft to the Richmond Police Department within 24 hours. Failing to do so will result in a civil penalty.
The goal of the ordinance is to help reduce the trafficking of lost and stolen guns, which are more likely to be used in criminal offenses. So far this year, 354 firearms have been reported stolen in the City of Richmond, 186 firearms from vehicles alone.
“Unreported gun loss and gun theft lead to gun crime,” said Mayor Stoney. “We all need to play a role in keeping our communities safe, and we can no longer wait for the General Assembly to act. This piece of legislation will be another tool in the toolbox of our police department that will help reduce crime and improve public safety.”
Currently, state law defines the theft of any firearm, regardless of value, as grand larceny. However, the Virginia General Assembly has repeatedly failed to pass a firearm loss or theft reporting requirement. This ordinance relies on the police powers provision granted to localities under the Code of Virginia. As written, the city’s ordinance would take effect immediately upon passage by the Richmond City Council.
“Stolen guns often end up in the hands of those who shouldn’t have them, threatening the safety of our communities,” said Kristin DuMont, a Richmond resident and volunteer with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. “It’s imperative these thefts are reported to law enforcement to protect our city and combat the trafficking of illegal guns. We’re grateful to Mayor Stoney for recognizing this problem and taking action.”
Lori Haas, Senior Director for Advocacy with the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, said “Mayor Stoney’s ordinance to require the reporting of lost and stolen guns within 24 hours is a step in the right direction of solving gun crimes and saving lives. I applaud them for this effort and encourage the ordinance’s passage by the Richmond City Council.”
Mayor Stoney also announced plans to introduce another public safety ordinance on Monday that would penalize motor vehicle operators who drive distracted while using a handheld communication device. While a driver cannot be pulled over simply for using a handheld device, Richmond Police officers would ticket offenders under the new ordinance if they witness evidence of distracted driving, such as speeding, swerving or running a stop sign.
Under the ordinance, driving while distracted by a handheld communication device will result in a fine of $125.00 for the first offense and $250.00 for any subsequent offenses.
“Driving while holding a phone is just not a smart thing to do,” said Mayor Stoney. “And under this ordinance, distracted driving with a cell phone is going to cost you. As a city, we must take the necessary steps to address the dangers of distracted driving, and we will not stand idly by as pedestrians, bicyclists, transit-users and fellow drivers are put in harm’s way.”
In 2018, 73 distracted driving crashes were the result of using a cell phone while driving. Due to underreporting, the actual number of motor vehicle crashes related to handheld communication devices is likely much higher.
The mayor’s office says passage of the ordinance would increase the safety of motorists and pedestrians and protect property along Richmond’s roadways. “It is time to shift our existing habits behind the wheel and grow our safety culture,” said Michael Sawyer, the city’s coordinator for Vision Zero. “This ordinance will help us do just that.”
According to Ruth Morrison, Policy Director with the Richmond and Henrico Health Districts, one in twelve drivers in Virginia today are classified as “phone addicts,” and that number is expected to climb to one in five by 2022. This makes Virginia the most dangerous state in the United States when it comes to distracted driving.
“Instead of waiting for the next life lost, the next child or mother, teacher or neighbor, to be killed or injured by a distracted driver, our city is working proactively to make safety on our streets a priority,” Morrison said.
“Distracted driving is the new drunk driving, and it’s a public health crisis we can fix,” said Louise Lockett Gordon, Director of Bike Walk RVA. “Just as we have prohibited driving under the influence, prohibiting driving while distracted by a handheld device is a common-sense measure to protect the lives of our neighbors, including our most vulnerable people: those walking, biking, and accessing transit.”
“Every bus rider begins and ends their trip as a pedestrian. Penalizing distracted driving will help keep Richmonders safe as they move around the city by bus, bike, or on foot,” says RVA Rapid Transit Executive Director Ross Catrow. “The Mayor has taken a good first step towards keeping Richmonders safe, and we’re looking forward to even stronger legislation from both the city and the state to further protect all people who use our streets.”
“No phone call or text is worth risking a human life,” says Janet Brooking, Executive Director of Drive Smart Virginia. “This ordinance is a big step in the right direction, helping drivers do the right thing and put the phone down.”
Currently, Virginia Law prohibits any person from operating a motor vehicle while using any handheld communication device to manually enter numbers or letters in attempt to communicate with another or read any email or text stored within the device. Under state law, it is still legal to use a handheld communication device to browse the internet, use social media, watch videos and use GPS mapping features and other functions while driving.
Should City Council pass this ordinance, Richmond will join Spotsylvania County and the City of Hampton as the only Virginia localities to enact laws targeting distracted driving due to a handheld device. The new law would go into effect six months after adoption in order to allow for an educational period.