Virginia Democrats Advance Gun Control Bills Despite Resistance

RICHMOND, Va. (CN) – Even with guns rights activists lined up by the hundreds outside a state Senate committee door, Virginia Democrats voted Monday to advance a number of controversial firearm restrictions.

The meeting of the recently renamed Senate Judiciary Committee was packed to the brim with folks on both sides of the gun control debate. Bills that will require universal background checks for all gun sales, create a red flag law, reinstate a one-handgun-a-month purchase limit and grant authority to localities to limit guns in city buildings and at permitted events all passed along party lines.

A main concern for Second Amendment supporters in the 2020 legislative session is an assault weapons ban bill from Senator Dick Saslaw, D–Springfield. While his bill wasn’t on Monday’s docket, the panel moved to kill it for the session in the face of strong resistance. This caused some consternation from senators on the right, who considered the strike a violation of Senate rules.

“We’re walking away from tradition here,” said Senator Mark Obenshain, R–Harrisonburg, who argued pulling the bill without having it on the docket would rob constituents of the chance to speak to it.

But the majority-Democrat committee appeared unbothered. Advocates instead say that any bill that would limit gun access breaks from tradition in Virginia’s governing body.

While the building was packed with gun rights advocates, the issue of control in Virginia was front and center during the 2019 election cycle following the murder of 12 people at a Virginia Beach municipal building earlier that year. While that wound was fresh for many in the room, the state was among the first to see the national wave of mass shootings when 32 people were killed and 17 others were injured by student Seung-Hui Cho at Virginia Tech in 2007.

Among those who fell victim to Cho’s gunfire was Colin Goddard, who was shot four times during the incident. Goddard’s father Andy became an advocate for gun laws shortly thereafter, becoming the legislative director for the Virginia Center for Public Safety. After over a decade of calling for new laws, Monday was the first time he saw his work come to fruition.

“The tradition, Mr. Obenshain, is the person in command gets to make the rules and you’re no longer in charge,” Goddard said in reference to the Republican lawmaker after the meeting. “New traditions start today.”

Goddard wasn’t totally pleased with Monday’s votes. He believes some amendments that were passed created watered down laws to appease gun supporters.

The National Rifle Association, which is headquartered in northern Virginia, was unsurprisingly critical of the votes.

“Regrettably, Virginia lawmakers approved a series of measures today that will make it harder for law-abiding Virginians to protect themselves, while doing nothing to stop criminals,” NRA spokesperson Catherine Mortensen said in a statement following the committee meeting.

Still, it was Virginia voters who helped create the new Democratic majority that is friendly to gun control.