Gun owners who can’t live without an assault-style weapon over their shoulder or hanging in a sling or ammo magazines holding more than 12 rounds, got at least a one-year reprieve Monday when the Virginia General Assembly Senate Judiciary voted 10 to five to send the proposal to the Old Dominion’s Crime Commission for study.
The block came because four Democrats, including chairman John S. Edwards of Roanoke, backed away from the governor’s anti-gun platform to reject the proposal.
Edwards, and the other three Democrats — Sens. Creigh Deeds (Bath), Chap Petersen (Fairfax and Scott A. Surovell (also Fairfax) said “no” to Gov. Ralph Northam.
The rejection puts the bill out of further consideration in this year’s General Assembly session but it can be brought up again next year
Sen. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth called the four “a bunch of wimps.” House Speaker Ellen Filler0Corn (Fairfax) said more:
The Democratic platform last fall was very clear. Limiting access to weapons of war used in mass murder was a key part of that platform. The House of Delegates delivered on our promise to take action to keep those weapons off our streets. To call today’s vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee a disappointment would be an understatement.
Some Democrats say the bill went too far when it required owners of high-capacity magazines to surrender them to state authorities or face criminal charges and the right to even own or carry a gun.
Others felt calling a semi-automatic pistol with a fixed capacity of more than 12 rounds was absurd.
The bill defined “assault firearm” as any semiautomatic, centerfire rifle or pistol with a fixed magazine capacity greater than 12 rounds. It also would have applied to any semiautomatic, centerfire rifle or pistol that can accept a detachable magazine and also has one of several other features, including a folding or telescoping stock; a second handgrip or a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand; a grenade launcher, flare launcher, silencer or flash suppressor.
The bill was the most controversial part of Northam’s gun-control agenda, with gun rights activists warning that the state was planning to confiscate firearms. Since the election, more than 110 Virginia counties, cities and towns have passed some type of “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolution, many of them asserting that local officials will not enforce laws they consider unconstitutional. Gun rights activists staged an enormous rally on Capitol Square in January, drawing heavily armed militias from across the country.
Northam’s original proposals including all owners of assault-style weapons to surrender them. He backed off that proposal but kept one that required owners fo high-capacity magazines to turn them in.
That requirement raised questions on Virginia’s tradition of not applying such confiscation retroactively. It would face strong challenges in the courts.
The House has passed seven other anti-gun proposals but the Senate has rejected two of those — legislation to require a gun owner to report loss or theft of a firearm in 24 hours and one that declares leaving a firearm within reach of someone age 18 or younger a felony.
The other five are expected to be signed by the governor and become law on July 1. They are:
- Enact universal background checks on private gun sales.
- Give local governments the authority to ban weapons from public buildings and at certain events.
- Create a “red flag” law, or extreme risk protective order, under which authorities can temporarily seize firearms from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others.
- Limit handgun purchases to one per month, a policy that was in effect in Virginia until 2012.
- Tighten the law prohibiting access to firearms for someone subject to a protective order.
Deeds, who voted against the assault weapons ban, said: “a lot of questions remain on what is or is not an assault weapon.”
Are those the only questions? Unlikely.