Virginia Senate Panel Says No to Democrats’ Assault Weapons Ban

February 18, 2020by Marie Albiges, The Virginian-Pilot (TNS)
Gun rights protestors gather under the Virginia State Capitol for a rally in support of Second Amendment rights on January 20, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (Rob Ostermaier/Virginian Pilot/TNS)

VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. — The final and most controversial of Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s gun control bills that would have stopped the sale of assault weapons and banned people from having 12-round magazines has been tabled for the year.

The bill, carried by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, would have banned the sale of semi-automatic firearms with magazines that hold more than 12 rounds, as well as silencers and pistol grips.

It also would have stopped people from having magazines that hold more than 12 rounds of ammunition and required the owners to destroy them, sell them to someone outside Virginia or turn them over to police by Jan. 1, 2021. It also banned the possession of trigger activators.

The House of Delegates passed the bill 51-48 last week, with Del. Kelly Convirs-Fowler, D-Virginia Beach, not casting a vote and two other Democrats, including Del. Steve Heretick from Portsmouth, voting against it.

“The weapons that have these features make them more useful for mass killings,” Levine said at the Senate Judiciary Committee meeting Monday morning.

Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, said the issue needed to be studied for a year.

Democratic Sens. John Edwards, Chap Petersen and Scott Surovell joined Deeds and every Republican on the committee to reject the bill but have the state crime commission study it for a year. A crowd of gun rights advocates in the meeting room cheered and applauded the decision.

Senate Republicans quizzed Levine before the vote on the types of guns capable of holding 12-round magazines.

“Have you been to a gun shop lately?” Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, asked Levine.

“Not recently, no,” Levine replied.

Sen. Louise Lucas, the only Democrat from Hampton Roads on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said she was “deeply disturbed” by the vote, adding that her fellow Democrats who rejected it “wimped out.”

“I want you to count now, start now, and start counting the number of people who would’ve died based on us not passing this legislation,” she said. “A lot of people are going to die because this body didn’t have the spine to do what 2 million voters wanted us to do,” she added, referring to the November elections when Democrats won majorities in the House and Senate.

Edwards, who chairs the Judiciary Committee, said calls from people opposed to the ban were heightened, more so than for any of other gun control bills being considered.

“We thought we needed a year to study it carefully to make sure we dotted our i’s and crossed our t’s and make sure people understood it and it could be applied in a way that’s reasonable,” he said. “There are so many pieces of this thing. I think we could probably work something out though.”

Democratic House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn called the vote a “disappointment.”

“The Democratic platform last fall was very clear,” she said in a statement. “Limiting access to weapons of war used in mass murder was a key part of that platform.”

Northam, a Democrat supported by the newly elected Democratic majority, highlighted eight measures at the beginning of the year that he said would reduce gun violence and save lives. Most of the other bills he supported — including limiting handguns to one a month and instating mandatory universal background checks — have passed in some form in both chambers.

“While the governor is disappointed in today’s vote, he fully expects the Crime Commission to give this measure the detailed review that senators called for,” said Alena Yarmosky, Northam’s spokeswoman. “We will be back next year.”

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©2020 The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.)

Visit The Virginian-Pilot (Norfolk, Va.) at pilotonline.com

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