A simple solution for gun violence

In the last two years, Virginia has seen an increase in weapons charges, gun violence and homicides. Although it is nothing compared to the rates of those crimes in the 1980s and early 1990s, this disturbing trend needs solutions — now.

Henrico police PSA


In 2010, the Virginia General Assembly, during Gov. Bob McDonnell’s administration, made a grave error that is directly impacting the rise of violence and weapons-related charges in the state.

Between 2007 and 2009, there was a member of the House of Delegates who did not want Virginians to have to acquire a concealed-weapons permit to lawfully store a gun in their vehicle. The legislation was aimed at circumventing the concealed-permit laws by stating that weapons only needed to be “secured” in vehicles to comply with the law. No concealed-weapon permit required. That bill did not pass the House until 2010, when it came in front of the Senate, wherein the Senate amended and passed the bill to say “locked” rather than “secured.” Gov. McDonnell amended this 2010 bill (HB 885) back to stating that the gun only had to be “secured” in the vehicle. It passed with that governor’s veto session amendment.

It was a simple but catastrophic change.

This meant the gun could be shoved down between the driver’s seat and front console with the handle showing, secured in the visible door slot, or in the unlocked glove box or center console storage area. This change through the governor’s amendment started a trend that has put guns in the hands of juveniles, criminals and those who most of us would agree should not possess these guns.

I recently researched the impact of this 2010 bill and after googling “guns stolen from vehicles in Virginia,” I got the bad but not surprising news: There is an epidemic of gun thefts from vehicles in many parts of the commonwealth. Portsmouth, Chesapeake, Southwest Virginia, Virginia Beach, Richmond. Nationwide, there were an estimated 77,000 guns stolen from vehicles in 2022. That is one gun every 6 or 7 minutes.

It used to be that three-quarters of stolen guns came from burglary and a quarter from vehicles’ but that has flipped. Now, half of the stolen guns come from vehicle thefts. Police have videos of youth walking down streets shaking car doors to find which ones are unlocked. I think the reader of this op-ed can guess where these stolen guns end up. They are either used by the thief or sold on the black market to those who may use them in crimes, including homicide. The bottom line? This law, as it is currently written, is a dangerous disservice to Virginians.

My initial thought was to craft legislation making it a Class 2 misdemeanor (up to six months in jail and a fine of $500) for keeping an unlocked gun in an unlocked vehicle. But I must be practical. The Republican House of Delegates would never allow for criminalizing anything related to gun possession that is not already against the law.

I have therefore determined that the best course of action to reduce these thefts and begin to save lives is to introduce a bill that requires a handgun to both be locked inside the vehicle and for the doors to be locked when the vehicle is unattended.
This bill puts the law violation in section 46.2 of the state code, the traffic section, which is not criminal. But a violation will come with a $500 fine and the towing of the vehicle.

The only current remedy is for local police and government officials to appeal to citizens through community meetings and public service announcements. This has failed and we must act.

Stolen guns are required to be reported to police, and violating this requirement comes with a civil penalty of $250. The owner of the vehicle is not responsible for any illegal act that the gun thief commits, and we must fully prosecute these thefts.

But the impact of otherwise lawful gun owners being careless with guns in their vehicles is enormous. If you leave a gun unlocked in a vehicle you are not a responsible gun owner.