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Time to STOP the STOP GUN VIOLENCE License Plate!

I do get the Virginia Citizen’s Defense League emails and I appreciate them very much but today I got this little gem from them and immediately responded to their source:

There is a license plate bill (HB 287, Simon) with the message “Stop Gun Violence” that has cleared the House and is headed to the Senate. VCDL opposes the message because it is not denouncing all violence, only violence perpetrated using a gun. The implication that beating someone to death is acceptable, but shooting them to death isn’t acceptable.


However, as misguided as the message is, bills like this usually pass. NRA has license plates one can order, for example.

When the license plate bill got to the House Floor, Republicans did modify it. The final version of the bill was amended by Delegate Matt Fariss to require that $15, of the additional $25 fee for such a custom plate, goes to the Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Fund and used to enhance and ensure for the coming years, the quality of care and treatment provided to individuals receiving public mental health, developmental, and substance abuse services in Virginia.

If the plate had been worded “Stop Violence,” I think the support would have been unanimous and VCDL would not have opposed the bill.

Now here’s the wording of the bill Del. Marcus B. Simon came up with:

§ 1. Special license plates for supporters of stopping gun violence bearing the legend STOP GUN VIOLENCE.

[ A. ] On receipt of an application and following the provisions of § 46.2-725 of the Code of Virginia, the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles shall issue to the applicant special license plates for supporters of stopping gun violence bearing the legend STOP GUN VIOLENCE.

That is a blatantly political message and it’s not the only one.  “CHOOSE LIFE” is available.  You can also “TRUST WOMEN, RESPECT CHOICE”  There are FRIENDS OF COAL and FRIENDS OF TIBET, too.  Even the tea party:  DON’T TREAD ON ME.  (I am told that is the most popular license plate in Va.)  Could argue that there are political implications in an NRA license plate.

There is even a Sons of Confederate Veterans license plate BUT they do not get their logo on it.  (All the others have a logo of some sort.)

The Supreme Court of the United States held (rightly I think) that the license plate is not the speech of the purchaser (even though the purchaser usually pays more and that goes into a fund to benefit a cause) but is the speech of the government instead:

In our view, specialty license plates issued pursuant to Texas’s statutory scheme convey government speech.

From Walker v. Texas Division of the SCV, decided in June 2015.

I think this is a correct decision.  It is a state license plate issued by and required to be placed on every vehicle registered in that state.

So, to place a plate into circulation for “supporters of stopping gun violence” is placing the Commonwealth of Virginia in the role of conveying that political message.  It is hoped all Virginians would be opposed to gun violence.  But that is not why Del. Simon introduced this bill.  It’s code for gun control.

If the Commonwealth allows this tag to be issued, with some anti-gun logo, than the Sons Of Confederate Veterans, who get NO logo, have been discriminated against.  This potentially violates the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution.  The government cannot say some speech is fine and not others in a situation such as this where there is potentially a unlimited number of messages.

There is a valid fear a court could hold:  The KKK or the American Nazi Party can have a special plate.  I do not want the KKK or the American Nazi Party to have a license plate of any kind with the Commonwealth of Virginia’s name and official registration stickers on it.  But agreeing that the DMV can adopt a license plate that says STOP GUN VIOLENCE brings that day closer to fruition.

One more thing:  Instead of a principled stand on the matter to oppose this political message, some in the majority Republican caucus compromised (again some might say) and came up with an alternative place for the funds:

These funds shall be paid annually to the Behavioral Health and Developmental Services Fund and used to enhance and ensure for the coming years, the quality of care and treatment provided to individuals receiving public mental health, developmental, and substance abuse services in Virginia. All other fees imposed under the provisions of this section shall be paid to, and received by, the Commissioner of the Department of Motor Vehicles and paid by him into the state treasury and set aside as a special fund to be used to meet the necessary expenses incurred by the Department of Motor Vehicles.


Nope.  The state senate should say no and instead study if we have political viewpoints on license plates with the eye toward getting rid of all of them.  Or apologize to the SCV and replace their logo on the plates.

About Elwood Sanders

Elwood "Sandy" Sanders is a Hanover attorney who is an Appellate Procedure Consultant for Lantagne Legal Printing and has written ten scholarly legal articles. Sandy was also Virginia's first Appellate Defender and also helped bring curling in VA! (None of these titles imply any endorsement of Sanders’ views)

2 Responses to “Time to STOP the STOP GUN VIOLENCE License Plate!”

  1. Micah J. says:

    So right on this one.

    Had to go to DMV in Richmond this week to get a Handicap card for my car due to a broken leg sustained in a basketball game.

    Yep only in Virginia would the General Assembly require an injured handicapped person to show up at DMV IN PERSON to wait in line for over two hours and pay a FEE for a handicap placard for your automobile.

    but that is another story… but on the huge wall at DMV there must have been 50 license plates to choose from. It is insane. What does that cost? to offer such a variety of political statements for your car? Meanwhile they charge handicapped people a FEE for a plastic card to hang on my rearview mirror.

    Where does Delegate Chris Peace stand on handicapped people? Hurry Chris Peace …. YOU are missing out on a huge opportunity to PANDER to handicapped voters on this issue.

  2. GeneThePopulist says:

    And here is classic Trump. He gives the stupid, ignorant, godless, republican base their $10 Billion wall for $25 Billion. And then, he sells them out by opening the flood gates for republican cheap labor. This deal was agreed on to get Pelosi to pass the Republican vomit budget in the House. Under achieving 8 year old Paul Ryan didn’t have the votes. Only Pelosi is more stupid than the average republican. And that’s saying a lot, and I know its hard to believe.



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    Tom White Says:

    Nothing is more conservative than a republican wanting to get their majority back. And nothing is more liberal than a republican WITH a majority.

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