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    Lawmakers tout bills to curb domestic violence

    RICHMOND – Two Northern Virginia legislators, joined by women who offered emotional testimony on their experiences with gun violence, asked their colleagues Thursday to pass laws making it harder for criminals to obtain firearms.

    Sen. Barbara A. Favola, D-Arlington, and Del. Kathleen Murphy, D-McLean, said such laws could help prevent domestic violence. At a press conference, the lawmakers discussed legislation they filed for the General Assembly’s 2015 session.

    House Bill 2085, sponsored by Murphy, would prohibit “a person who has been convicted of stalking, sexual battery, assault and battery of a family or household member, brandishing a firearm, or two or more convictions of assault and battery from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm.”

    (Later Thursday, a subcommittee of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee recommended that the bill be tabled for this session.)

    A similar measure – Senate Bill 943, sponsored by Favola – is still alive: The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 10-4 in favor of the bill Wednesday.

    SB 943 would prohibit people who have been convicted of stalking a household member, sexual battery or assault of a household member from possessing or transport a firearm for one year. A person who violates the provision would be guilty of a Class 1 misdemeanor. Under the bill, a convicted person may petition the court to have his or her firearm rights reinstated.

    “This bill clearly is a bill to protect victims of domestic violence,” Favola said.

    She originally requested that perpetrators of domestic violence be barred from having a gun for five years, but the committee reduced the prohibition to one year. Even so, Favola said she sees it as a sign of progress.

    Favola said she purposely made her bill about domestic violence and women. In situations of domestic violence, a woman is 500 percent more likely to die if there’s a gun in the household, and one out of four women will experience some form of domestic violence in her life, the senator said.

    Murphy, who lost her brother to gun violence, said the grief never ends. She said society must deal effectively with the perpetrators of domestic violence.

    “These are criminals,” Murphy said. “These are not just spouses or lovers or boyfriends; they are criminals. And we need to make that clear, because we know when a violent criminal gets a gun, then it is very likely that someone will end up dead.”

    Two Virginia residents – Barbara Harrington of Bedford and Lisette Johnson of Chesterfield – spoke at the press conference in support of laws to curb gun violence.

    Harrington lost her sister, nephew and mother in 2014 after her brother-in-law shot and killed them before turning the gun on himself. Harrington said her brother-in-law had access to a large number of firearms, despite criminal complaints of abuse and protective orders against him.

    “According to both my sister and nephew, her husband had nearly 50 guns at his disposal,” Harrington said. “This fact was a source of pride for the murderer. He once bragged he had enough ammunition and weapons hidden in the woods where he hunted that he could eliminate the entire population of West Virginia.”

    Johnson is a victim of gun violence. In October 2009, she said, she was shot multiple times by her husband – in front of her children.

    “This is a public safety issue because domestic violence isn’t tidy,” Johnson said. “It just doesn’t happen in Section A housing; it happens in middle- and upper-class neighborhoods. It happens in malls. It happens in offices. It happens at restaurants. It happens at hospitals. It happens in courtrooms. History has shown us that any bystander who is present is at risk, too.”

    How They Voted

    Here is how the Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted Wednesday on SB 943 (Firearms; possession or transportation following convictions for certain misdemeanor crimes).

    Senate: Reported from Courts of Justice with substitute (10-Y 4-N)

    YEAS – Norment, Saslaw, Howell, Edwards, Puller, McDougle, McEachin, Stuart, Vogel, Stanley – 10.

    NAYS – Obenshain, Reeves, Garrett, Chafin – 4.

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