Virginia Democrats advanced four gun control bills through the Senate Judiciary Committee, but voted against advancing a bill that would have expanded the definition of assault weapons and banned their sale and possession.
The committee, which now has a Democratic majority, advanced a bill that would expand background checks to private sales, a bill that would allow police to temporarily seize weapons from a person who poses a threat to himself or others (a red flag law), a bill that restricts handgun purchases to one per month, and a bill that gives local governments the authority to prohibit guns at certain events.
After Democrats gained control of both chambers of the General Assembly in November’s elections, party leaders set gun control as one of their top priorities. Gun violence had been one of the main talking points of their campaigns.
Along with red-flag laws, expanded background checks, and restricted sales, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam has included in his agenda a ban on the sale of assault weapons and a ban on silencers and high-capacity magazines. For the time being, the governor said he did not intend to ban the possession of assault weapons for people who already own them, but he planned to mandate the gun owners register them with the commonwealth.
Democratic Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, had proposed a bill that would expand the definition of an assault weapon and ban the sale or possession of such firearms. The bill would have also prohibited the transfer of magazines that could hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition. Saslaw requested the bill be removed from consideration.
Although the Democratic leaders have backed Northam on his proposed ban on the sale of assault weapons, some moderate Democrats expressed concern. The Associated Press reported that at least four Democratic senators have expressed reservations about such legislation, although none have completely ruled out voting for it.
Democrats currently hold a 21-19 majority in the Senate. In the case of a tie, Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax would cast the tie-breaking vote.