About a week ago, I received a pretty troubling email from another political activist. It concerned a pre-filed bill for the upcoming legislative session, HB 1528 sponsored by Dickie Bell of Staunton. According to the email, this bill “requires every dealer to prepare a daily report” of precious metal transactions. Furthermore, these reports would be available to both government and law enforcement agents. As you would imagine, I found this news to be particularly troubling. I would assume that more and more Virginians would look toward investing in precious metals given the continued weakness of the U.S. Dollar. Isn’t it just a little bit disconcerting that the government would take such a keen interest in these transactions? What do they plan to do with this data now or in the future?
Resisting the temptation to hastily write a letter to Delegate Bell regarding my concerns, I thought it prudent to do a bit of research first. The most interesting point that I discovered is that the Virginia Code (54.1-4101) already requires precious metal or gem dealers to keep a written record of both their transactions and customers that are available on request. Delegate Bell’s bill would primarily change two points:
- “Every dealer shall prepare a daily report containing the information required by 54.1-4101 sold to him each day and shall file such report by noon of the following day with the chief of police or other law-enforcement officer of the county, city or town where his business is conducted designated by the local attorney for the Commonwealth to receive it.” The dealer can submit his or her report electronically as opposed to mailing or delivering them in person, which is the current norm.
- Dealers can charge their customers a small service fee to cover the added costs associated with these filings.
As you can see, some of the most onerous parts of the law are already in place. Delegate Bell’s bill just enhances them and provides a much closer and daily link to law enforcement. As you can imagine, with this new information I was still against HB 1528 and looked for an opportunity to speak with the Delegate about it. That opportunity came on Friday when Harrisonburg and Rockingham County Republicans gathered for lunch at our typical First Friday meeting. All of the Delegates and Senators who represent any portion of the city and/or the county were invited. Once I got to the gathering, I discovered that neither Senator Hanger could not attend nor could most of the Delegates. Fortunately, both Delegate Bell and Senator Obenshain were there.
After the meal and a short speech by the Senator and Delegate, I patiently waited my turn to ask about HB1528. Senator Obenshain moderated the questions from the audience and several times he passed over my outstretched hand. Amazingly, after just about everyone else’s questions had been answered, the Senator ended the meeting, thus denying me my opportunity and primary reason for showing up to the meeting in the first place. Although it would be easy to assume such a move as an intentional slight, I really hope it was merely an oversight.
As the crowd began to trickle away, fortunately Delegate Bell stuck around to speak with some of the guests and so I kept my eye on him. Once the line dwindled, I finally got my chance.
The first thing Delegate Bell said to me was that he noticed that I had been waiting patiently for quite some time. I agreed and pulled out my printed copy of HB 1528 and asked him why he was proposing that bill. He responded that local law-enforcement officials suggested the bill as an effort to further crack down on illegal trafficking of stolen goods. However, after speaking with a number of interested parties, Delegate Bell stated that he no longer supports this bill and would be removing it from consideration very soon. In addition, given the potential privacy violations already present in the law, he mentioned that he would be speaking to the Attorney General about deleting (or at least modifying) 54.1-4101 from the Virginia Code.
It is difficult to find the balance between security and liberty. Although I’m sure that HB 1528 would aid Virginia police in catching criminals, is the added bureaucracy, hassle, and loss of privacy worth is? I would say no. In our post 9-11 world, far too many conservatives and liberals alike are willing to sacrifice just about every right in order to gain even the slightest feeling of security, even if doing so provides no tangible benefits. For another example one needs look no further than the ridiculous nature of airport security. First, why do we allow the federal government to look after airport safety? Shouldn’t that role be the responsibility of the independent airport authorities or at least the states or the localities in which they are located? Second, aren’t these body scanners and aggressive pat-downs a clear violation of our Fourth Amendment rights? Must we give up our Constitutional protections in order to fly the not so friendly skies? I could go on, but the simple fact is that once we surrender liberty in one facet, like travel, it will be that much easier to surrender it in another, like commerce, all in the false and misguided hope of greater security.
Now some activists might be upset by Delegate Bell’s HB 1528 proposal, but I think we should look at this event in a different light. After all, Delegate Bell freely admits that HB 1528 is a blunder that he intends to correct immediately. I believe that gesture shows volumes about his character. He could have ignored the concerned letters and phone calls. He could have not taken responsibility for this lapse in judgment. After all everyone makes mistakes and the easiest and most widespread response is to simply deny their existence. A true mark of strength is when we recognize missteps and correct them before the damage becomes irreversible.
Even though we share many conservative values, I’m sure that Delegate Bell and I will disagree on a few points in the future. I’m just glad to know that the 20th district has a Delegate who listens to the people and will change course when he discovers he is in error.