• Thomas Parker

Virginia lawmakers reject semi-auto gun ban

Updated: Feb 19, 2020

Virginia state senators voted to table the controversial bill that would have banned semi-automatic firearms and banned possession of magazines that hold more than 12 rounds until next year.

Four Democrats joined Republicans in rejecting the legislation on Monday in a committee vote, instead asking the state crime commission to study the issue before they revisit the bill next year.

The bill was a top priority for Virginia Governor Ralph Northam and some of his fellow Democrats, who campaigned heavily on gun control in last year's legislative elections that gave Democrats control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than 20 years.

Earlier proposals of the bill that banned possession of AR-15-style rifles or that required owners to register them with state police have been scrapped. The governor had hoped a watered-down version would win over enough Democratic moderates for passage.

The state Senate committee voted to table the bill while noting there was confusion over what types of guns would constitute an assault weapon.

“There are obviously a lot of questions about definitions in this bill. Definitions do matter,” said Democratic Sen. Creigh Deeds.

This is the third rejection that the state Senate has given to Northam on gun control measures, but five other measures have passed committee votes and are expected to be finalized soon. Those bills include limiting handgun purchases to once a month; universal background checks on gun purchases; allowing localities to ban guns in public buildings, parks, and other areas; and a red flag bill that would allow authorities to temporarily seize guns from anyone deemed dangerous to themselves or others.

Virginia has become the center of a heated debate over gun laws. A new Democratic majority seeks to enact strict new laws while gun owners have pushed back.

The proposed assault weapon ban has received the most opposition from gun owners, accusing the governor and his Democratic colleagues of wanting to confiscate guns from law-abiding citizens. Northam and Democrats in the legislature have repeatedly said they do not want to confiscate guns, but that their measures would save lives by preventing mass murders.

The governor's spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky, said Northam is disappointed with the result but that he is determined to pass the measure.

"We will be back next year," she said.

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