The Legal Eagle-February 2020

The Legal Eagle-February 2020

Virginia Governor’s Bill To Ban Assault Weapons Fails, but Senate committee passes other significant restrictions to gun rights

Virginia’s Democratic governor seemed poised to make broad changes to his state’s gun control laws, but was dealt a stinging blow by his own party Monday when a state Senate committee blocked a bill that would have, among other things, banned sales of assault weapons.

Four Democrats on Virginia’s Senate Judiciary Committee broke ranks with their party handing the Republican minority a victory in tabling the bill for the remainder of the year. It also sent the measure to the state’s Crime Commission for further review.

The bill would have banned the sale or transfer of certain assault-style weapons in Virginia. It also would have made it illegal to possess silencers and magazines holding more than 12 rounds.

Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, had championed the legislation, which was part of a series of eight gun-control measures the Virginia House passed earlier this year. The seven remaining bills are still being considered in the state Senate.

Still, after Democrats’ big gains last fall in the Virginia General Assembly — controlling the governor’s mansion and both chambers of Virginia’s General Assembly for the first time in a generation — changes in gun laws appeared on track to move forward unimpeded.

A spokesperson for Northam, Alena Yarmosky, said in a statement to NPR that the governor was “disappointed” in the Senate panel’s vote Monday.

The governor “fully expects the Crime Commission to give this measure the detailed review the Senators called for,” she added. “We will be back next year.”

Among the items lawmakers in the Virginia House have approved include limiting gun purchases to one per month, allowing cities and counties to ban firearms in public spaces, one calling for universal background checks on private firearms sales and creating an extreme risk protection order, also known as a “red flag” law. Those laws allow authorities to temporarily confiscate firearms from someone thought to be a threat to themselves or others.

But then the Senate committee balked at the assault-style weapons bill.

After Monday’s 10-5 vote, state Sen. L. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, called the four Democrats who voted to table the measure a “bunch of wimps,” according to The Washington Post.

Meanwhile the National Rifle Association, which is headquartered in the Fairfax, Va., celebrated the defeat in a tweet, calling the bill “anti-American.”

“The Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee voted today to reject HB961, a bill banning standard-capacity mags, future sales of suppressors and commonly-owned firearms,” the tweet read. “Thank you to NRA members and gun owners who fought to defeat this anti-American legislation”.

Here in North Carolina citizens have been on high alert with this recent legislative onslaught on the 2nd Amendment and are organizing protest rallies and seeking 2nd Amendment sanctuary bills similar to those passed in Virginia.

This week, the topic of Second Amendment sanctuaries arose at both New Hanover and Brunswick County Board of Commissioner meetings. But the meetings varied, in tone and in outcome.

Brunswick is now a ‘Constitutional Protected Rights County.’ This means the county will not use government resources to enforce laws that are thought to infringe on the Second Amendment’s right to bear arms. 

The resolution, passed unanimously by commissioners, adds Brunswick to a growing list of localities across the country that have adopted similar measures. 

Gun rights advocates have created petitions to add New Hanover and Pender counties to that same list — but New Hanover residents are not likely to see any decision in the near future. At the Monday, February 17 Board of Commissioners meeting, Commissioner Woody White expressed support of the Second Amendment, but said resolutions like this are not the county’s business. 

“I’ve always been a very strong supporter of the Second Amendment. I possess lawfully a number of firearms. I have not supported bringing forth resolutions like the one that you propose today, because we have local government to do. It’s basic blocking and tackling for education, public safety, land use planning.”

Other board members expressed corresponding thoughts. 

Pender County tabled a similar ‘gun sanctuary’ measure last year. As of now, it has yet to be brought up again. 

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