RICHMOND, Va. – The Virginia Senate has approved a bill that would allow members of the military to apply for and receive concealed handgun permits at age 18.
House Bill 1582, introduced by Del. Jeff Campbell, R-Marion, passed the Senate by a vote of 24-15 on Wednesday. It originally passed the House of Delegates on a 78-19 vote on Jan. 18.
The bill now goes to Gov. Terry McAuliffe for his signature. McAuliffe has not announced his stance on the legislation. He will review it once the bill reaches his desk, according to Sam Coleman, a press aide.
If signed into law, the bill would allow active-duty members of the military and those with honorable discharges between the ages of 18 and 21 to receive concealed handgun permits, provided they have completed basic training. Under current Virginia law, no one under the age of 21 is eligible for a permit.
While it is currently illegal for anyone under the age of 21 to purchase a handgun from a licensed firearm dealer, Virginians between the ages of 18 and 21 can legally buy a handgun in a private sale or receive one as a gift.
Del. Marcus Simon, D-Fairfax, cited that reason in opposing the bill during its discussion on the House floor last month.
“We don’t think it’s smart to let 18- and 19- and 20-year-olds who can’t legally purchase a firearm from carrying concealed,” he said when the bill was debated.
Del. Scott Lingamfelter, R-Woodbridge, disagreed with Simon’s characterization.
“I see no harm at all in trusting young men and women who were ready to give their lives for our freedom” to have a concealed handgun permit, he said.
Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, echoed Lingamfelter’s statements.
“We don’t seem to have any problem putting a gun in their hands when they’re going to go overseas to get shot at,” he said. “So this whole idea that we can’t trust them when they come back to exercise the very constitutional amendment they went overseas to defend seems a little bit ridiculous to me.”
Campbell also said the bill would increase concealed-handgun permit reciprocity with other states.
Currently, Virginia permits are recognized throughout the Southeast except in Georgia. Campbell said his bill would change that by “removing the sole impediment to recognition of Virginia concealed carry permit holders by the state of Georgia,” thereby granting permit holders full passage throughout the southern I-95 corridor.
“As a practical matter, this is a good bill for those of us who like to travel out of state on the East Coast,” Lingamfelter said.
Campbell said the bill is another step toward his party’s goal of concealed handgun permit reciprocity across all 50 states. Currently, Virginia permits are recognized in 32 states.
Simon said he feared that in expanding reciprocity, Virginia may be headed down a slippery slope.
“We’re going to have to lower our standards in state after state after state to make sure that our laws are just as generous to concealed carry permit holders and that we have the lowest standards of any state in the country,” Simon said. “It is the first step in having us liberalize our concealed carry permits to go to the lowest common denominator.”
Permit reciprocity has been a hot-button issue among Virginia officials over the past year. In December 2015, Attorney General Mark Herring revoked Virginia’s permit reciprocity agreements with 25 states.
However, during its 2016 session, the General Assembly passed legislation reversing Herring’s decision and restoring all previous reciprocity agreements.
Since the election of President Donald Trump, the issue of permit reciprocity has risen to prominence at the federal level.
Last month, U.S. Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., introduced HR 38, otherwise known as the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, to the 115th Congress.
Hudson’s proposal would force all 50 states to recognize permits from all other states. The bill is awaiting hearing in the House Judiciary Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security and Investigations.