Virginia Assault Weapon Ban, Magazine Confiscation Defeated in Senate

February 17, 2020

The Virginia proposal to ban "assault weapons" and confiscate ammunition magazines holding more than 12 rounds was defeated in a bipartisan vote on Monday morning.

In a 10-5 vote, the state senate's Judiciary Committee referred HB961 to the crime commission for further study, meaning the bill will not go to a final vote this legislative session. Democratic senators Creigh Deeds, John S. Edwards, Scott Surovell, and Chap Petersen joined all of the Republicans on the committee to vote down the measure. It passed the Democrat-controlled House of Delegates by a slim majority last week.

The crowd of gun-rights advocates who had filled the committee room to capacity began to cheer as the bill was defeated. Their cheers, combined with those of the overflow crowd in the hallway outside the meeting, were loud enough that senators briefly paused the meeting.

The defeat of the ban and confiscation measure followed mass demonstrations from Second Amendment rights advocates in January. Tens of thousands peacefully rallied in Richmond during a gun-rights gathering as lawmakers debated gun-control bills. The rally was a culmination of three months of grassroots opposition to measures—especially confiscation efforts—backed by Governor Ralph Northam (D.) and members of the newly elected Democratic majorities in both houses of the legislature. As of February, 141 localities, including 91 of Virginia's 95 counties, had declared themselves Second Amendment "sanctuaries" and vowed not to enforce new gun laws they deemed unconstitutional.

"Everybody's hard work, Lobby Day, and sanctuary movement paid off!" Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which organized the Richmond rally and helped facilitate the sanctuary movement, tweeted after the vote.

The National Rifle Association, which also organized a lobby day in January and had been continually working with lawmakers to block HB961, said the vote represented a significant victory for Virginia gun owners.

"This is a victory for honest, hard-working Virginians who shared their support for the Second Amendment in rallies on the capitol, in one-on-one meetings with their lawmakers, in letters to the editor, and in phone calls, emails, and texts to their state senators," Catherine Mortensen, an NRA spokeswoman, told the Washington Free Beacon. "We thank the senators on the judiciary committee for listening to their constituents and delivering a bipartisan defeat of an egregious gun ban that would have criminalized law-abiding gun owners."

Gun-control supporters decried the bipartisan vote.

"Wimps," Senator L. Louise Lucas (D.) said as the bill was defeated. "Bunch of wimps."

Everytown for Gun Safety, which spent $2.5 million in the 2019 state elections, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. But gun-control group Brady United called the defeat disappointing. It vowed to pursue similar legislation next year.

"While we are disappointed in today's vote, we are undeterred," Kris Brown, the group's president, said in a statement. "This was not the outcome we wanted, but they can rest assured that they will hear from us, from advocates and from everyday Virginians in the intervening months about why we need to ban assault weapons in Virginia."

Had it passed, the bill would have had a wide-reaching effect. The National Shooting Sports Foundation, the gun industry's trade group, said the vast majority of modern firearms come standard with magazines that hold more than 12 rounds. It estimated HB961 could have affected hundreds of thousands or even millions of Virginians.

"This bill would affect more than just your modern sporting rifles like the AR-15," Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the group, told the Free Beacon when Democrats passed HB961 through a House committee earlier this month. "It would affect the vast majority of handguns."

The gun-control fight in Virginia is not over. The house and senate have passed five gun measures, including a universal background check bill, red flag proposal, and one-gun-a-month purchase limit. These proposals have not attracted as much vocal opposition from Democratic lawmakers as the ban and confiscation legislation did. The legislature also has another session next year before the house and gubernatorial elections in November 2021.

"Today the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to defeat the largest attack on Virginia's gun owners that we have seen in years," the Virginia Shooting Sports Association, the NRA's state affiliate, tweeted after the vote. "The battle is not over but this bill is dead for this session."