Virginia Democratic leaders abandoned their gun confiscation proposal Monday following a grassroots outpouring of opposition to gun control across the state.
Governor Ralph Northam (D.) and incoming Senate majority leader Dick Saslaw (D.) said they will no longer pursue their marquee plan to ban the possession of "assault weapons." Instead, they will include a provision to allow Virginians to keep the firearms they already own. The reversal comes before the newly elected Democratic majority has even been sworn in, after a majority of the state's counties declared themselves "Second Amendment sanctuaries."
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"In this case, the governor's assault weapons ban will include a grandfather clause for individuals who already own assault weapons, with the requirement they register their weapons before the end of a designated grace period," Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky told the Virginia Mercury.
The Democrats' backtracking may indicate a trend in the gun debate in Virginia. Gun-control advocates poured millions of dollars into successfully flipping the state legislature, but the outpouring of opposition to their agenda, even in deep blue areas, may cause some new members of the state legislature to be cautious about backing gun control. The concession is unlikely to end the fight brewing across the state, however, as Democrats still plan to pursue a ban on many new sales.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League, which has pushed counties to refuse to enforce unconstitutional gun laws, said there is "no doubt" the Democrats' retreat was a result of the Second Amendment sanctuary movement.
"They were hoping to play that card later, but they're playing it now because they have to find some way to slow down this whole process," Philip Van Cleave, the group's president, told the Washington Free Beacon.
Gun-rights groups said the backtracking is merely a political strategy designed to enact new gun bans and registration.
"Gov. Northam and the rest of Virginia’s anti-gun politicians’ idea of a compromise is to threaten hundreds of thousands of Virginians with felonies unless they submit to government control," Catherine Mortensen, a National Rifle Association spokesperson, told the Free Beacon. "The NRA will stand with the Commonwealth’s law-abiding gun owners in solidarity to oppose gun bans, confiscations, and registrations."
"We've been down this compromise road and their version of a compromise is they never give up anything," Van Cleave said. "We are expected to give up something every time and we're not doing it anymore. I think gun owners are tired of this and they're gonna stand up and fight this stuff."
The grandfather clause offered by Northam's office had no impact on VCDL's opposition to the bill, Van Cleave said, and the group will fight any new gun ban—whether it has a confiscation component or not.
"The problem with what his suggestion is it's still taking away guns," Van Cleave said. "Yeah, we get to keep our AR-15s, but what about the next generation and the generation after them? Who are we to negotiate away their rights and accept this crap?"
He did suggest they could work with Democrats on gun legislation if it targeted criminals instead of gun owners.
According to Van Cleave, there were 59 sanctuaries in the state as of Tuesday. VCDL is organizing supporters to attend 20 more meetings this week alone.