Virginia Dems Push Assault Weapons Ban, Magazine Confiscation Through Committee

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D.) / Getty Images
February 7, 2020

Virginia Democrats on Friday pushed a bill through the state house of delegates' Public Safety Committee that would ban the sale of "assault weapons" and confiscate certain ammunition magazines.

The bill, HB961, is the most controversial advanced by Democratic lawmakers and Governor Ralph Northam (D.) since they took control of both houses of the state legislature in November. It would outlaw new sales of some of the country's most popular firearms, including the AR-15, and make it illegal to possess ammunition magazines capable of holding more than 12 rounds, even if they were previously legally purchased. Friday's vote was along party lines, with one Democrat abstaining.

The proposal could affect millions of Virginia gun owners, according to the firearms industry's trade group.

"This bill would affect more than just your modern sporting rifles like the AR-15," Mark Oliva, a spokesman for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told the Washington Free Beacon. "It would affect the vast majority of handguns."

Friday's move is just the latest in the ongoing struggle over gun control in the state. The liberal offensive in that struggle, which has been spearheaded by Northam, has prompted peaceful protest by thousands of Virginians and a spike in gun purchases amid fears of more draconian legislation. The latest legislative move is likely to further galvanize gun-rights proponents, who have promised to make their fight against Northam's laws a long one.

The National Rifle Association, which has been at the forefront of the gun-rights push, decried the bill and accused Democrats of bowing to pressure from billionaire Michael Bloomberg, who poured millions of dollars into the Democrats' successful campaign to flip control of the legislature last year.

"This gun ban will make millions of law-abiding Virginians felons overnight while doing nothing to decrease crime," Catherine Mortensen, an NRA spokeswoman, told the Free Beacon. "That's why a majority of Virginians oppose it. The fact is lawmakers delayed bringing up this bill so they could pander to Mike Bloomberg, their billionaire benefactor who will be in Richmond next week to headline a Democratic fundraiser to further enrich themselves. It is clear that House leaders would rather bow to out-of-state interests than listen to their constituents and fellow lawmakers."

Gun-control advocates applauded the committee vote. Gun-control group Brady said "assault weapons" were "uniquely lethal" in a press release.

"Assault weapons and high-capacity magazines undeniably make mass shooting incidents worse by equipping shooters with firepower capable of wounding and killing more victims and reducing the opportunities for escape, defensive action, or law-enforcement intervention," Christian Heyne, Brady vice president of policy, said at the morning's committee meeting.

The version of HB961 passed Friday is less extreme than the first AR-15 proposal backed by Northam, which would have actively confiscated "assault weapons" in addition to magazines. The current proposal also raised the magazine limit by two rounds, from 10 to 12, and removed a registration requirement. Democrats' backtracking comes after months of protests and sanctuary resolutions being passed across the state, culminating in a rally with tens of thousands of attendees in Richmond last month.

There may be further revisions made to the bill during the required three days of deliberation in the House before a final vote can be taken. The House has until Tuesday to pass it, after which it is required to move on to budget bills. If it passes the House, the bill faces an uphill battle in the Senate, where Democrats have a two-vote majority and state senator Lynwood Lewis (D.) has publicly opposed a new ban on guns or magazines.