Last month, Mayor Dwight Jones bemoaned, sort of, all of the gun legislation circulating at the General Assembly:
“It really represents a step backwards to think that we would continue to loosen these laws so that you have guns in bars, and guns just everywhere. And so that adds to the difficulty of our situation. But I think that the most important thing that’s being said here today is that we’ve developed a paradigm; we’ve developed a strategy that no matter what the variables are we continue to use that strategy to continue to solve crimes and work to bring the crime rate down. But I think we’ll do that no matter what happens at the General Assembly.”
Jones’ shifting paradigms notwithstanding, it’s important to note that he answered the question at a press conference celebrating the decrease in violent crime across the city, including the murder rate, alongside the police chief and commonwealth’s attorney. As McDonnell prepares to sign a bill repealing the one-handgun-a-month law that passed during former Gov. Doug Wilder’s administration in the early 1990s, there are several reasons why the GOP feels confident there’ll be no backlash akin to the abortion bills.
First, you can tap into the anti-big-government sentiment and the Second Amendment, which always plays well in a Southern state like Virginia. And there’s a big difference in the political climate during Wilder’s governorship and today. Remember, the early 1990s were a violent period in Richmond, and across the country, at the height of the crack-cocaine epidemic, when drug-related homicides were big news. 1991 marked the first time the number of murders in Richmond topped triple digits -- 113 -- topping out at 160 in 1994. In 2011, Richmond had recorded just 37 homicides, which have remained below 50 a year since 2008.
In other words, decreasing crime means we feel safer, hence we’re less concerned about the impact of repealing one-handgun-a-month. That’s not to say repealing the law won’t lead to Virginia becoming one of the country’s top criminal gun suppliers (although the evidence is murky), just that the general public is less likely to get worked up about it. Dan Palazzolo, a political science professor at the University of Richmond, explains:
“Guns are different. The reason why is that rate of crime and gun-related crime in the country has dropped significantly. So the one-gun-a-month provision … basically, the gun lobby has effectively gained support, broadly speaking, so I don’t think that’s as big as the abortion-related privacy issues.”
Of course this is kind of obvious, but worth pointing out. That and the fact that police departments are much more proficient at prosecuting gun-related crimes than they used to be, and the rising sophistication of police data mining has also helped.
UPDATE: In an unexpected turn, the state Senate referred the so-called "personhood" bill back to committee for further review Thursday afternoon, carrying the legislation over until 2013.
From trans-vaginal to trans-abdominal, the controversial ultrasound bill was amended on Thursday. After pushback from Gov. Bob McDonnell and a heaping of national attention from the likes of Saturday Night Live and The Daily Show, the Republicans are retreating a bit. At least for the moment.
During a standing-room only Senate committee hearing at the General Assembly, Delegate Kathy J. Byron, R-Lynchburg, the chief sponsor of the controversial bill requiring women submit to fetal ultrasounds before abortions, lashed out a bit at the “misinformation” that spread about her bill. The legislation, she says, is merely intended to make sure that women facing such a difficult decision have all the facts.
“I have always been … supportive of the woman’s ability to have the right information that will assist in them making a very life-changing decision,” she told the Senate health and education committee. She offered some key amendments, and the bill now requires only that women receive trans-abdominal ultrasounds before abortion procedures. The previous, widely satirized version of the bill required “trans-vaginal” ultrasounds, namely because vaginal ultrasounds are often the only effective way to get a clear picture of the fetus during early stages of pregnancy.
That isn’t really the issue, of course. It’s the idea that the state law would require such a procedure. Democrats have taken every opportunity to point out the ideological conflict: the same Republicans who oppose Obamacare on the grounds that the government has no place in the doctor’s office were supporting government-mandated vaginal probing.
The ultrasound bill, the amended version, was approved by the Senate health and education committee, and as was Delegate Robert Marshall’s equally famous “personhood bill.” Both were headed to the full Senate this afternoon.
But not before some pretty interesting politicking. During after the Thursday’s meeting, the issue turned contentious and a bit rough. Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, who famously attached an amendment to the ultrasound bill requiring men undergo a rectal exam prior to receiving prescriptions for erectile dysfunction, lashed out: “So what I’ve been observing over the last several weeks, the last six weeks, since the Republicans got domination here in Richmond, is we are racing to the dark ages for ideological reasons,” she said. She was admonished by the committee chair, Sen. Stephen Martin, R-Chesterfield, but elicited whoops from the audience.
After the meeting, a group of protestors were ejected from the General Assembly building for chanting and screaming “shame, shame” at Marshall as he talked with reporters in the hallway, capping a wild week.