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Gun backers celebrate rare win at Assembly / February 19, 2020

Local gun rights advocates cheered the defeat of a proposed ban on the sale of assault rifles in the General Assembly this week, although five other measures have cleared both houses of the legislature for Gov. Ralph Northam to sign into law.

On Monday, four Senate Democrats joined with six Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to table House Bill 961, which would have banned the sale of assault weapons and certain firearm magazines. The measure is dead for the remainder of the session after the panel voted 10-5 to send it to the state’s Crime Commission for further review.

The bill, introduced by Del. Mark Levine of Alexandria, had previously passed in the House on a mostly party line vote of 51-48.

“Clearly the elements included in HB961 went farther than the public and the majority of legislators wanted,” said state Sen. Frank Ruff of Clarksville.

Committee Chair John Edwards (D-Roanoke) and three other Democrats — Creigh Deeds of Bath County, Chapman Petersen of Fairfax and Scott Surovell of Mt. Vernon — joined six members in the Republican minority to quash the bill. Among the Democrats who voted to advance the sales ban for a floor vote was House Majority Leader Richard Saslaw of Springfield, who introduced his own bill earlier in the session to ban the possession in addition to the sale and transfer of assault weapons. That measure prompted an outcry from hunters, sport shooters, farmers and others who said such a law would make them overnight felons.

Both the Democratic-controlled House and Senate have passed other gun control bills, calling for expanded background checks on gun show purchases, authority for local government to ban weapons in certain instances or locations, a one-gun-a-month purchase limit, and “red flag” protective orders allowing a court to temporarily take away firearms from persons deemed a risk to themselves or others.

Northam has made gun-control measures a priority this session following the shooting deaths of 12 people at a Virginia Beach municipal building in May 2019. The proposed ban on assault weapon sales was part of a package of eight gun-control bills that the governor and Democratic candidates backed in the 2019 legislative elections. That election handed Democrats control of both houses of the General Assembly for the first time in a generation.

The defeated HB961 defined “assault firearm” as any semi-automatic, centerfire rifle or pistol with a fixed magazine capacity greater than 12 rounds or a semi-automatic shotgun with a fixed magazine capacity in excess of seven rounds. The bill also applied to any semi-automatic, centerfire rifle or pistol that can accept a detachable magazine or has a folding or telescoping stock; a second handgrip, a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand, a barrel extender, silencer or flash suppressor or a semi-automatic shotgun that has a folding or telescoping stock, a protruding pistol grip, or a detachable magazine.

The bill exempted from the definition any firearm that is rendered permanently inoperable, an antique firearm, or a curio or relic as those terms are currently defined.

It also exempted certain transfers such as: gifts to immediate family members, transfers to an estate executor or administrator, temporary transfers to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm, transfers that are part of a gun buyback, or transfers that occur at a shooting range or gallery.

Del. Tommy Wright (R-Victoria) said he spoke with people from the district who attended the session in Richmond ahead of the vote. “These were everyday people. They were upset by the fact that their right to defend themselves or their livestock was being taken away. Especially the thing about the clip, it struck a nerve.”

Wright was referring to a provision in the bill that would have defined high capacity magazines or clips as holding more than 12 rounds. He explained that farmers sometimes need high capacity magazines to kill off coyotes or other wild animals that prey on their livestock.

As originally introduced, the bill would have banned all possession of assault weapons, forcing owners to give them up as of July 1. But the House Public Safety Committee modified the bill to prohibit only sales and transfers. Anyone who legally owned such guns before the law took effect would be allowed to keep them.

Even with the amendments by the House Public Safety Committee, the bill did not go far enough to protect the rights of gun owners, according to Wright. “I give credit to the Democrats [in the Senate] who voted to table the bill and glad they realized the mistake that was about to be made,” he said.

“While the focus [of the bill] was on the sale of AR-15s, the worst part of the bill would have made anyone who currently owns an ammo clip that holds 12 rounds a criminal. These magazines were bought legally by law-abiding citizens. In all probability, this would have triggered an appeal to the courts,” Ruff said.

Following the defeat of HB961, local Second Amendment Sanctuary organizer Debbie Jordan wrote on social media, “We won this battle; we still have many ahead. One at a time until we win the war. Stay focused, informed, and prepared. We will not back down.”

Jordan, who is part of a statewide Facebook group that has spurred turnout of gun rights supporters at local meetings to enact Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions, also was one of a number of Mecklenburg County residents to rally in Richmond this month to oppose Democratic gun bills. The protest drew an estimated 22,000 people to the capital.

Prior to the vote Monday to kill HB961, members of the Senate previously quashed two other gun bills — House Bill 9, requiring the owner of lost or stolen guns to report the loss to law enforcement within 24 hours, and House Bill 1083 making it a crime to recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm where it can be accessed by a minor.

Since November, 141 towns, cities and counties across Virginia have adopted Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions. While 2A Sanctuary backers vow to fight on, Northam has promised, through a spokesperson, to reintroduce the assault weapon sales ban in the 2021 Assembly session.

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IT is time to vote these non-virginians out of office. I am ashamed of Northam, I cannot believe that he attended VMI. I hope that he will be shunned by his fellow classmates. It is time that we stop putting these people on a pedestal. They are elected to serve us, not a billionaire in New York.

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