Virginia lawmakers blocked a ban on sales of assault weapons as part of a package of gun control measures that Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam had promised and gun owners have fought fiercely to defeat.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Monday to hit pause on the House bill that would ban the sales of some semiautomatic firearms and ban the possession of magazines with more than 12 rounds.
With four moderate Democrats joining Republicans, the committee voted to defer a vote until 2021 and asked the state crime commission to study the issue.
The bill’s temporary defeat is a blow to Northam’s and Democrats’ policy agenda, which has featured a slew of liberal measures passing both legislative houses.
The national gun debate has centered on Virginia after Democrats won control of both houses in November and Northam, embroiled in scandal a year ago over a yearbook photo showing blackface, remained in office.
Democrats argued that the ban and other gun control measures would make Virginians safer. He also worked to dispel myths that he would call on state authorities to confiscate firearms.
However, the assault weapon sales ban drew the strongest pushback from Repulicans and groups of gun owners who saw it as an affront to the Second Amendment.
Just weeks after the newly-elected General Assembly took office, a rally of thousands of gun supporters gathered in Richmond to show their opposition to the bills. Many openly carried assault style weapons as alleged threats of violence prompted Northam to declare a state of emergency and ban weapons of the state capitol’s grounds. The rally was peaceful and went on without incident.
In an email to supporters, the Virginia Citizen’s Defense League, which organized the Richmond rally, declared the Judiciary Committee’s decision a “victory” and vowed to continue to fight against the bill.
“Next year, the battle will continue, but if we fight like we did this year, vote in every election and support pro-gun candidates, we will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. We dare not get complacent again,” the email said.
Supporters of the bill also promised not to back down.
“This was not the outcome we wanted, but (the Senate Judiciary Committee) can rest assured that they will hear from us, from advocates and from everyday Virginians in the intervening months about why we need to ban assault weapons in Virginia,” said Kris Brown, president of gun-control group the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.
Several gun control measures are still being considered in Virginia’s legislature for passage this year. The House and Senate have both passed their own versions of five bills, which include a universal background check on gun purchases, a limit on handgun purchases to once a month and a so called “red flag” rule, allowing authorities to temporarily takeaway firearms from anyone deemed a danger to themselves or others.
Contributing: The Associated Press
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