Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday that his gun control agenda does not include door-to-door confiscation of firearms, deployment of the national guard to enforce gun control legislation, or cutting off electricity of Virginians for the purpose of gun confiscation.
The governor said he wanted to dispel rumors and called for civility in gun control discussions while laying out his agenda in a joint news conference with the leaders of the new Democratic majority in the House of Delegates and the Senate. He said his gun control policies are only meant to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people.
After a mass shooting in Virginia Beach that left the shooter and 12 other people dead, Northam introduced an eight-point gun control plan. The plan included a ban on the sale of assault weapons, and a ban on silencers and high-capacity magazines. The governor later said that Virginians who already own assault weapons will not be forced to turn in their guns, but will be forced to register their assault weapons with the state by a certain deadline. When asked in November whether he was considering confiscation, Northam told a reporter, “not at this stage,” which left the door open for potential confiscation in the future.
Gun-rights activists, including Gun Owners of America, expressed concern that the forced gun registration may be a stepping stone for gun confiscation because it would provide the state with a comprehensive list of who owns these firearms.
"The governor himself on November 6, when asked if he would confiscate guns, said 'That’s something I’m working [on] with our secretary of public safety,'" Erich Pratt, the senior vice president of Gun Owners of America told The Center Square in an email.
"And while he has retreated somewhat from that position in recent weeks, he has said that he supports imposing a gun ban with a grandfather clause and registration for existing owners," Pratt said. "Of course, registration is the necessary first step for gun confiscation, as we have already seen in California and New York. So Virginians will oppose his efforts to register guns – just as strenuously as if he were outright banning them."
Pratt said that the U.S. Constitution and the Virginia State Constitution both state that the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed. He said that all of Northam's proposals violate the constitutions by infringing on these rights.
The governor’s plan also included red-flag laws, restrictions on gun purchases and required background checks for most private sales.
In response to the governor’s agenda, more than 100 local governments passed resolutions stating they intended to defy statewide gun control laws that they deemed to be unconstitutional. The resolutions did not lay out specific policies that they would ignore, but did declare themselves sanctuaries for the Second Amendment.
Responding to these local governments, Northam said that local officials who refuse to enforce statewide gun control policies would face consequences, but did not specify what those consequences would be. Attorney General Mark Herring issued an advisory opinion that said these resolutions would have no force of law because state policy trumps local government policy.
One Democratic lawmaker, Del. Lee Carter, D-Manassas, introduced legislation that would provide consequences for defying gun laws. His bill would terminate the employment of an officer who refused to “perform the duties of his employment.”
Another lawmaker, Del. Donald McEachin, D-Richmond, suggested using the national guard to enforce gun control policies, which led to rumors that this may be Northam’s means of enforcing consequences on local governments. Some critics suggested that this would only be possible through martial law.
Following these statements, a conspiracy theory began floating around the internet that Northam planned to cut off the electricity, phone connections and internet of Virginians so that they could not reveal what is happening during gun confiscation.
Democrats flipped both chambers of the General Assembly from red to blue in November and have set the passage of gun control legislation as a top priority, making their passage more likely. Republicans had previously blocked the governor’s legislative attempts.