Sen. Russet Perry, D-Loudoun, is sponsoring a bill that would create a misdemeanor for anyone who purchases or possesses a firearm after they have been found guilty of assault and battery against someone with whom they are in a relationship.
Currently, domestic violence protections exist only for spouses or family members. This legislation would expand those protections to people who are in romantic relationships.
Convicted offenders would not be able to buy or possess a firearm for three years.
The Senate Courts of Justice Committee advanced the bill on a party-line vote Monday.
“This is a long overdue fix that needs to be taken care of to protect people who are in dating relationships,” Perry said when presenting the legislation.
One of the benefits of providing these additional protections to individuals is that their cases would be handled in domestic relations courts instead of general district courts.
Nathan Greene, the commonwealth’s attorney for the City of Williamsburg and James City County, spoke in support of the bill in his personal capacity.
“General district court is equipped to handle the crimes that happen when two individuals come together for a moment a criminal act takes place,” Greene said. “[Domestic relations] is equipped to address those crimes where there is either a past or ongoing relationship, and that relationship is a component to bringing them together and therefore should be considered with how to handle that case.”
Greene said the bill would address the “longstanding problem” of the law treating an altercation between strangers the same way it addresses an altercation between a romantic couple that doesn’t live together.
No one at the committee meeting spoke in opposition to the legislation.
Sen. Richard Stuart, R-King George, asked for clarification from the committee’s legal counsel on how the bill defines a romantic relationship.
“What this [bill] does is include in our very definite definitions of family members, a category that is not defined and cannot be defined,” said Steven Benjamin, the legal counsel for the committee.
Benjamin continued by pointing out how it could include occasional romantic partners, friends with benefits or people who meet up when they have a free night.
“When we define family or household member, then there is some legal, financial, cohabitating or emotional relationship,” Benjamin said. “But intimate partner is described only as somebody with whom in the previous 12 months one has had a romantic relationship without defining what is a romantic relationship.”
In the United States, more than 1,000 women are killed by intimate partners every year, according to FBI and CDC data. Nearly half of the intimate partner homicides in the U.S. are perpetrated by an unmarried partner, a 2018 study found.
The most common weapon used in the intimate partner homicide of both women and men is a firearm.
Perry’s bill advanced out of committee on a 9-6 party-line vote and was referred to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee.
If it makes it out of the full Senate and is approved by the House of Delegates, it will then be up to Gov. Glenn Youngkin to either sign or veto the legislation. He has historically been against enacting any new gun restrictions in Virginia.