Prominent Gun Activist Says McAuliffe Can’t Ban Gun Carry in Government Buildings

NRA, gun rights groups attack McAuliffe's new gun control order, threaten lawsuits

Student displays his Glock 9mm semi-automatic handgun on the University of Utah campus
Holstered handgun / AP

A prominent gun rights activist said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D.) lacks the legal authority to impose the gun carry ban included in the executive order he issued last week.

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), said McAuliffe doesn't understand Virginia gun laws. "Does he have the authority to do the ban in government buildings? We don't think he does," he said.

"The problem that he has is that he's been given no authority to do such a ban. The General Assembly issues concealed carry permits and they say where you can and can't carry them. And there's nothing in there that gives him any authority to say ‘you can't carry a concealed handgun in this building.' They have to give him the power to do that and they haven't given him the power."

"He doesn't understand Virginia gun laws. He never has and he never will."

Van Cleave said McAuliffe's order was motivated by politics.

"When I look at this whole package what I see is somebody running to be vice president in the future, probably starting next year, who's trying to pump himself up and make himself seem like he's doing something about guns when, in reality, he's not doing anything to make the Commonwealth safer," he said.

McAuliffe issued Executive Order Number 50 on Thursday in an effort to unilaterally impose new gun carry bans in some state government buildings. The order also included a number of initiatives to enforce current gun laws.

McAuliffe said the order was necessary to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people. "The actions directed in this executive order will help our Commonwealth better enforce Virginia laws designed to keep guns away from people who would use them for harm," he said. "The task force I have convened will take tangible steps to bring more successful prosecutions of gun crimes, and the other steps outlined in the order will aid in our efforts to keep families safe from gun violence."

The National Rifle Association and the Second Amendment Foundation have also criticized the governor's order.

The NRA said the order was unnecessary and exploitative. "The governor doesn’t need an Executive Order to enforce laws already on the books," said Lars Dalseide, an NRA spokesman. "It’s what the NRA has been calling for all along—for officials to enforce existing regulations and prosecute the criminal offenders to the full extent of the law."

"If Governor McAuliffe and his former boss Hillary Clinton were serious about preventing tragedies like Virginia Tech and Roanoke instead of exploiting them, they’d address our nation’s broken mental health system—that’s the real loophole."

The Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) also expressed skepticism that anything in the governor's plan would help stop shootings like those which have dominated recent news cycles. When asked about the plan SAF founder Alan Gottlieb said: "And these executive actions would have helped stop any high profile shooting in the last 10 years … how?"

Van Cleave said VCDL is working on ways to counter McAuliffe's order. Some of the proposals, he said, aren't worth fighting since they accomplish little or nothing. "On the things that are already being done, if he wants to waste the time and the money just to make himself look better for an election well there's not much I can do," he said.

Van Cleave also said that since McAuliffe's order gives the director of the Department of General Services 30 days to formulate regulations banning gun carry in some government buildings, the VCDL has to wait for those regulations to come out before figuring out how to push back on them.

The Second Amendment Foundation said they too were waiting on the official regulations before deciding whether or not to file suit against the governor. "We are looking to see if the governor violated the law with his carry ban," Gottlieb said. "If he did he is going to get sued."