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Northam calls for extreme risk protection orders in new push for gun safety legislation

Gov. Ralph Northam will formally present his legislative proposals Wednesday in his State of the Commonwealth address.

Saying he hopes to find “middle ground” on guns, Gov. Ralph Northam said Friday that he’ll push for legislation that would let authorities temporarily take guns away from people who threaten to hurt others or themselves.

At a news conference in Richmond, Northam reiterated his support for several gun control measures, including universal background checks, an assault weapons ban and reinstatement of Virginia’s former one-handgun-a-month law.

Last year, General Assembly Republicans killed most of Northam’s gun proposals shortly after he took office. Many will likely be voted down again in the legislative session that starts next week.

But the legislation for risk protection orders — an idea that gained bipartisan support after last year’s school shooting at a high school in Parkland, Fla. — will be new for the 2019 session.

“It shouldn’t be a partisan issue to want to make sure that weapons are not in the hands of people who pose a threat,” Northam said.

Democrats tried to bring a similar proposal to a vote in the House of Delegates late in the 2018 session. House Republicans said the rules prohibited them from considering the bill after the crossover deadline, but said the idea of gun restraining orders would be part of an “ongoing discussion” about intervention.

The protection order bill — sponsored by Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Fairfax — would let judges issue temporary warrants to take guns away from someone if a law enforcement investigation finds a “substantial risk” of harm. The subject of the order would then have to surrender any guns to law enforcement or a third party.

A court hearing would be held within 14 days to determine if the order is justified. The court could extend the order for up to 180 days.

Violations of a risk protection order would be treated as a Class 1 misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in jail and fines of up to $2,500.

Last month, a school safety commission President Donald Trump convened after the Parkland shooting encouraged states to adopt risk protection laws that also respect gun rights and due process. Thirteen states already have extreme risk protection order laws, the federal report said. Eight of those states passed the laws after Parkland.

A spokesman for House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, declined to comment directly on Northam’s gun proposals.

“We just rolled out a proposal to protect the middle class from a $1.2 billion Democrat tax increase,” said Cox spokesman Parker Slaybaugh. “We have yet to evaluate Governor Northam’s proposals but as with all legislation that will be introduced for this session it will work its way through the legislative process.”

The governor also said he’ll push for legislation to require gun owners to report a lost or stolen firearm to law enforcement within 24 hours of discovering it’s missing. Another Northam-backed proposal would create stricter punishments for adults who leave loaded guns where children can get them.

“Responsible adults lock up their guns,” Northam said. “Irresponsible ones should face felony penalties.”

Last year, Northam said, there were 1,028 gun-related deaths in Virginia, including 663 suicides. In the same period, 956 people died on the state’s highways.

Northam told reporters he hasn’t met with Republican lawmakers to discuss his gun proposals, but plans to do so when they return to Richmond.

“I think there’ll be some that will be willing to work with me,” Northam said.