Virginia Governor Pushes Gun Bans, Mum on Confiscation After Dem Victories

VA governor Ralph Northam (D) / Getty Images
November 7, 2019

Virginia governor Ralph Northam (D.) announced after his party's sweeping victory in Tuesday's state elections that he would push new gun bans and other gun control measures, but did not answer questions about a possible confiscation effort.

Northam told reporters on Thursday that he would push gun control when the new Democrat-controlled legislature convenes. He highlighted universal background checks, banning the sales of "assault weapons" and "high-capacity" magazines, red flag laws, and bringing back a one-gun-a-month purchase limit, according to the Washington Post. However, when asked if he supports confiscating "assault weapons" from Virginians he did not give a direct answer.

"That's something I'm working [on] with our secretary of public safety," he told the Post. "I'll work with the gun-violence activists, and we'll work [on] that. I don't have a definitive plan today."

Northam's remarks provide insight into how Virginia Democrats plan to move forward on a key issue after fully capturing the state government. With a 55-45 majority in the House of Delegates and a 21-19 majority in the state senate, Democrats can control the legislative process, but with little wiggle room. The governor will also have to push his agenda while navigating continued backlash to his blackface scandal.

The governor spent most of 2019 pursuing a ban on the sale and possession of so-called assault firearms. A possession ban would likely result in the confiscation of millions of firearms. However, Northam's measure failed on two different occasions under the previous, Republican-controlled legislature.

Democratic candidates running in key districts were silent on whether they would support such a measure if elected.

Gun confiscation and other gun control measures have been part of Northam's agenda, but took on increased importance after a picture of two men, one in blackface and the other in KKK robes, was uncovered on Northam's page in a medical school yearbook. In his first major public appearance after the scandal broke, Northam called for a special session of the legislature in order to reconsider his gun control package, following the recent strategy used by prominent liberals of pivoting to gun control after brushes with controversy.

Democrats have a strong incentive, in the form of millions in dark money, to implement new gun control laws. In each of the last three election cycles, Everytown for Gun Safety—backed by billionaire Michael Bloomberg—and other gun control groups have spent large sums of money backing Democrats. Everytown spent $2.5 million to help push Democrats into the majority in Virginia, while the National Rifle Association spent just $300,000 supporting Republicans, according to CNBC.