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Amended assault firearm bill squeaks out of House

A controversial bill banning assault firearms passed the House this week along party lines, and after several amendments whittled away at certain requirements that had caused the loudest opposition. Gun rights advocates say they are still watching to see what happens in the General Assembly and will “fight hard” to stop the bill in the Senate.

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By Chip Lauterbach

A controversial bill banning assault firearms passed the House this week along party lines, and after several amendments whittled away at certain requirements that had caused the loudest opposition.

The House of Delegates passed HB 961 this week 51-48, which bans the sale of assault firearms and other firearm accessories. Sponsored by Del. Mark H. Levine, D-Alexandria, HB 961 is one of the many gun control efforts being introduced this session and backed by Gov. Ralph Northam.

The bill has been amended several times, and because of this Levine believes that lawmakers have reached the best compromise. Levine also said he wants to counter misinformation being used by pro-gun groups.

“There have been a lot of scare tactics being used,” Levine said. “No one is going to send the police to kick down your door to take away your firearms.”

Amendments to the bill include striking the requirement that current owners of firearms categorized as assault weapons register them with the state police. Also removed was a section that banned suppressors, also known as “silencers.” Originally the bill required that the suppressors be destroyed, moved out of state, or surrendered to law enforcement by January 2021. Now the bill only restricts future sales of assault firearms and suppressors.

The bill in its current form would ban the sale and transfer of new assault rifles, as well as restrict the size of a magazine’s capacity to 12 rounds. An earlier version of the bill would have made possessing any large-capacity firearm magazine a class 6 felony violation, but that penalty was amended and reduced to a class 1 misdemeanor.

“I have been talking to and listening to the concerns from law abiding citizens,” Levine said. “I have also worked with my colleagues across the aisle; Sen. Amanda Chase was instrumental in helping with these amendments.”

Former Arizona congresswoman and gun control advocate Gabrielle Giffords on Monday urged Virginia lawmakers to “act with courage,” in a statement released the day before the vote.

Statewide opposition has swelled in response to proposed gun control legislation that the Democrats promised after gaining control of the General Assembly and the governor’s mansion for the first time since 1993.

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, is a leading voice against the gun control bills that have been introduced.

“We will be working to kill the bills that crossed over,” Van Cleave said. “Expect VCDL to have a presence in all the subcommittee and committee rooms on gun bills, we will fight hard to stop it in the Senate.”

 Van Cleave and the VCDL held a massive pro-Second Amendment rally on Jan. 20, that drew over 22,000 people to Capitol Square and the surrounding areas. Northam declared a state of emergency before the event, citing concerns over safety and threats of violence.

Van Cleave said his group hasn’t planned another rally but that is something that could change on short notice.

“We are watching the gun bills,” Van Cleave said. “What happens with those bills will have bearing on our next move.”

With Levine’s bill inching closer to becoming law, many gun store owners statewide have reported an uptick in sales from state residents buying anything that would be banned under the bill.

Eric Tompkins, owner of Paladin Strategic in Mechanicsville, said that the legislative gun control push has helped sales at his gun store, but predicted that his business probably won’t last if HB 961 were signed into law.

“It’s been a double-edged sword, because the past few months since the election have been great,” Tompkins said. “I have had a ton of customers each day, but I know that’ll drop off, and I don’t know whether my business will continue.”

The bill now heads to the Senate. Firearm bills passed earlier by the Senate include SB 70, which requires a universal background check when people sell firearms. SB 69 limits handgun purchases to one a month, while SB 35 allows localities to ban firearms in a public space during a permitted event. SB 240 allows authorities to take away the firearms of someone deemed to be a threat to themselves or others, a measure known as a red flag law. SB 543 makes background checks mandatory at gun shows.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.

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Stoney: City to “cautiously move” into Phase 1 of reopening plan on Friday, May 29th

On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond will cautiously move into Phase 1 of Forward Virginia, the state’s reopening plan. Masks will be required in all indoor spaces and restaurants will be asked to voluntarily connect patrons’ information for contact tracing purposes.

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On Thursday, Mayor Stoney announced that the City of Richmond will cautiously move into Phase 1 of Forward Virginia, the state’s reopening plan.

“When I look at the picture in totality, given the added tools at our disposal, the current trends in our local data and my faith in Richmonders to look out for one another, I believe that Richmond can cautiously move into Phase 1 on Friday, May 29,” said Mayor Stoney at Thursday’s press conference.

During the first delay that the City of Richmond requested, the Stoney administration and Richmond City Health District expanded testing efforts, implemented a contact tracing effort, ensured every COVID-19 positive Richmonder will be able to isolate safely and securely with supported isolation, and advocated for a statewide mask requirement.

The city initially requested a modified Phase 1 reopening that maintained restrictions on places of worship and personal care and grooming services, as mass gatherings and close personal contact for extended periods of time both significantly increase chance of community spread.

Because the governor denied the city’s modified plan for reopening, Richmond will move into Phase 1 of Forward Virginia, the state’s reopening plan, with strong recommendations reflecting the mayor’s proposed modifications. Local guidance and helpful links to state guidance are available here. The state has yet to provide guidance on what Phases 2 and 3 will include.

The mayor detailed a number of best practices for residents and business owners to ensure that the city moves into Phase 1 cautiously. The best practices emerged from conversations between the Stoney administration and members of the business community, faith leadership, and health professionals.

  1. All residents who are medically able to should wear a face-covering that covers the mouth and nose when in public spaces. The wearing of a face covering does not negate the need for 6-foot social distancing.
  2. Faith communities should continue to meet virtually if possible. If in-person meetings are absolutely necessary, the mayor strongly recommends faith groups meet outside while practicing strict social distancing and enforcing the face-covering requirement.
  3. Food and drink establishments that choose to offer outdoor service at half capacity are asked to request a name and contact information of patrons who dine in for contact tracing purposes. This practice is voluntary for both patrons and restaurants. However, collecting this small amount of information for each dine-in party will go far in assisting the Richmond City Health District in tracing and containing outbreaks. Guidance on this practice is available here.

The mayor made two requests of the state: to continue to assist the city in further expanding testing capacity and in providing adequate face-coverings and hand sanitizer throughout the capital city.

“Quite frankly, we’re going to need more support from the state for our residents and our businesses to reopen safely and sustainably,” the mayor noted in his appeal. “I make these recommendations and requests of the state because, as has been my mantra this entire pandemic. Reopening should be slow and steady.”

“When public health is on the line, blindly pushing forward is not an option. Decisions must be thoughtful, and they must be based in our collective knowledge of and love for our city.”

See more reopening guidance for local businesses here: www.rvastrong.org/reopeningguidance.

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Governor Northam announces face covering requirement, denies Richmond’s request to modify phase one reopening

Governor Ralph Northam on Tuesday signed Executive Order Sixty-Three, requiring Virginians to wear face coverings in public indoor settings to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. At the same time, the governor denied a request by Mayor Levar Stoney to place restrictions on places of worship and personal grooming businesses when Richmond enters phase one of reopening Friday.

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Governor Ralph Northam on Tuesday signed Executive Order Sixty-Three, requiring Virginians to wear face coverings in public indoor settings to help contain the spread of the novel coronavirus. The Governor also directed the Department of Labor and Industry to develop emergency temporary standards to prevent workplace exposure to COVID-19.

The governor also signed an amended Executive Order Fifty-One, extending Virginia’s state of emergency declaration.

The new executive order supports previous actions the Governor has taken to respond to COVID-19 in Virginia, and ensures workers and consumers are protected as the Commonwealth gradually eases public health restrictions. The Governor’s statewide requirement for wearing face coverings is grounded in science and data, including recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that individuals should wear face coverings in public settings. Face coverings do not take the place of public health guidelines to maintain six feet of physical distancing, increase cleaning and sanitation, and wash hands regularly.

“We are making progress to contain the spread of COVID-19 and now is not the time for Virginians to get complacent,” said Governor Northam. “Science shows that face coverings are an effective way to prevent transmission of the virus, but wearing them is also a sign of respect. This is about doing the right thing to protect the people around us and keep everyone safe, especially as we continue to slowly lift public health restrictions in our Commonwealth.”

A face covering includes anything that covers your nose and mouth, such as a mask, scarf, or bandana. Medical-grade masks and personal protective equipment should be reserved for health care professionals. Under the Governor’s executive order, any person age ten and older must wear a mask or face covering at all times while entering, exiting, traveling through, and spending time in the following public settings:

  • Personal care and grooming businesses
  • Essential and non-essential brick and mortar retail including grocery stores and pharmacies
  • Food and beverage establishments
  • Entertainment or public amusement establishments when permitted to open
  • Train stations, bus stations, and on intrastate public transportation, including in waiting or congregating areas
  • State and local government buildings and areas where the public accesses services
  • Any indoor space shared by groups of people who may congregate within six feet of one another or who are in close proximity to each other for more than ten minutes

Exemptions to these guidelines include while eating and drinking at a food and beverage establishment; individuals who are exercising; children under the age of two; a person seeking to communicate with a hearing-impaired person, for which the mouth needs to be visible; and anyone with a health condition that keeps them from wearing a face covering. Children over the age of two are strongly encouraged to wear a face covering to the extent possible.

At the same time, Northam denied a request by the Stoney administration that sought to modify the City of Richmond’s move into phase one by placing additional restrictions on places of worship and salons, spas, and other personal grooming businesses.

The governor responded saying that Richmond should adhere to the same phase one regulations as other cities and counties in the Commonwealth beginning this Friday, May 29th.

The full text of Executive Order Sixty-Three and Order of Public Health Emergency Five is available here. The text of amended Executive Order Fifty-One is available here.

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Underground Kitchen’s New Food Relief Nonprofit Surpasses 10K Meals Distributed

The food relief operation currently has nine chefs and two bakers working in church kitchens to produce homemade soup and bread, soon to include family-style pot pies, pastas, and casserole dishes to help sustain families for several days.

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Great news from the folks at Underground Kitchen.

In less than two months, the UGK Community First Project – officially registered as 501(c)(3) nonprofit in early May – has provided more than 10,000 nourishing meals to people throughout metro Richmond, primarily to those who are food insecure or whose jobs put them at high risk of exposure during the COVID-19 crisis. The Community First Project was formed by Michael Sparks and Kate Houck, the CEO and COO respectively of Underground Kitchen, an acclaimed Richmond, Va.-based experiential, roving dinner series that’s now on hold until it is safe to resume operation.

The UGK Community First Project initially launched on March 16, 2020, right after Underground Kitchen paused its dinner series in response to the COVID-19 crisis. “We saw an immediate need in our community created by the crisis – both for healthy meals to be delivered to those in need, as well as for those in the food industry to have access to work in a safe environment to support their families,” says Houck.

The first 175 meals were delivered to individuals impacted by the crisis and front-line health workers in the community the week of March 23, 2020. By May 11, 2020 that number had increased to 2,000 meals for the week, distributed to food insecure communities, those who are home-bound or quarantined, front-line health workers, first responders, families and care-givers and others throughout Richmond.

UGK Community First has scaled up its response to help through the generous support of Episcopal Diocese of Virginia member churches in metro Richmond. The food relief operation currently has nine chefs and two bakers working in church kitchens to produce homemade soup and bread, soon to include family-style pot pies, pastas, and casserole dishes to help sustain families for several days.

“We are conscious of the continued impact of COVD-19 and are committed to doing what we can to address the need for meals in the community for the duration of its influence,” says Houck.

“However, we have also seen that, regardless of the agencies that already exist in the region, there continues to be a deep need for healthy, unprocessed, consistently delivered meals even in the best of times. Therefore, we see UGK Community First continuing long after this crisis passes, with a focus on distributing meals to families and children who live in a constant food insecure environment, as well as supplementing other programs who are doing the same,” she adds.

In addition to the Episcopal churches, over the past several weeks, Underground Kitchen has worked with a coalition of community partners, donors, and volunteers including: Better2gether RVA, CARITAS, GoochlandCares, La Casa de la Salud RVA, the Armstrong Renaissance community, Virginia Supportive Housing, and CultureWorks Richmond (through the COVID-19 Arts and Culture Relief Fund).

UGK Community First has also supplied meals to: St. Mary’s Hospital, Memorial Regional Medical Center, Richmond Community Hospital (all part of Bon Secours), McGuire VA Medical Center, Ronald McDonald House Charities® of Richmond, Richmond Ambulance Authority, and The Doorways.

For more information about the UGK Community First Project food relief operation, please visit theundergroundkitchen.org.

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