The Virginia House of Delegates on Monday advanced an assault weapon and high-capacity magazine ban to its third reading.
House Bill 961, which is sponsored by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, would prohibit the sale of assault weapons, but would allow a person who already owns such a weapon to keep his or her firearm. Any person who obtains a firearm before January 1, 2021, would be grandfathered in.
The prohibition on high-capacity magazines will not include a grandfather clause, which means that it will be illegal to possess a magazine that can hold more than 12 rounds of ammunition.
The legislation has support from most of the chamber’s Democrats, but strong opposition from Republicans.
Although the initial language made it a felony to possess a high-capacity magazine once the law is in effect, a floor amendment weakened the penalty to a Class 1 misdemeanor. This could still land someone in jail for a year.
“No law-abiding citizen will be affected [by this bill],” Levine said on the House floor. “Virginians understand that laws change, and law-abiding citizens follow the law.”
Levine said he introduced the legislation because these weapons have been used to carry out mass murders, including the one in Virginia Beach. He said the burden this bill puts on gun owners is tiny compared to the loss of life, which he said these firearms and magazines have been partially responsible for.
Del. Nick Freitas, R-Culpeper, said reducing the penalty is an improvement, but this is still a bad bill. He said the state should never send a person to jail for something he or she lawfully acquired. He also said the bill’s classifications of assault weapon and high-capacity magazine are arbitrary, which is often because lawmakers seek to ban things that look scary, rather than actually familiarizing themselves with the issue.
The legislation advanced with a voice vote. The House has a 55-45 Democratic majority, and the Senate has a 21-19 Democratic majority.
This legislation was part of Gov. Ralph Northam’s gun-control agenda from last year and was campaigned on by Democrats in November’s elections, which led them to flip control of both legislative chambers from red to blue. However, some moderate Democrats, especially in the Senate, have spoken out against this aspect of the governor’s gun control priorities.
Both chambers already have advanced their own versions of some of the governor’s gun-control agenda, which includes red-flag laws and expanded background checks. A minority of Senate Democrats, however, blocked legislation that would create penalties for recklessly granting access to a firearm to someone under the age of 18. Opponents were concerned that the reckless standard was too vague and that a person could be convicted of allowing a trained teenager to access a firearm.