Tuesday, February 11th is the deadline for bills in the Virginia legislature to pass out of their chamber of origin and “cross over” to the other chamber, and while a number of bad gun bills have already beaten that deadline, Gov. Northam’s gun, magazine, and suppressor ban has yet to receive a hearing in committee, much less a full vote by the House of Delegates. That’s all about to change, because the agenda for the House Public Safety Committee’s meeting on Friday morning has been released, and HB 961 is scheduled for a vote.
The bill has been delayed in the House as lawmakers try to “fix” the bill (in the words of Democrat House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn), but with the deadline coming up next Tuesday, Democrats hoping to send the gun ban bill to Northam can’t delay any longer.
According to the latest info from the Virginia Legislative Information Services, HB961 hasn’t been amended since it was introduced, though it is likely that there will be attempts to do so in committee on Friday.
As it stands right now, HB961 bans the possession, sale, or purchase of all firearms deemed to be “assault firearms,” ammunition magazines that can hold more than ten rounds, all suppressors, and items deemed to be “trigger activators” as well. Gun owners who currently possess banned firearms can apply to the Virginia State Police to receive permission to continue to possess their guns, but in order to do so they’ll have to register themselves and any “assault firearms” with the VSP.
Democratic leadership in the House may try to whip their members into voting for the bill, even if some Democrats aren’t happy with the current language. They can always revise the bill later, but the deadline is hard and fast. If HB961 doesn’t pass the House by the end of next Tuesday, it’s done for the year, and given the fact that this is one of Northam’s biggest gun control proposals, leadership is going to do everything they can to get the bill in some form or fashion to his desk.
If the bill clears the House next week, it does face some obstacles in the state Senate. Sen. Lynwood Lewis has already said he won’t support any ban on firearms, and three of his fellow Democrats in the state Senate say they can’t support the current language of HB961. Lewis’s opposition would mean a likely 20-20 vote in the state Senate, with the tie-breaking vote in favor of the bill being cast by Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax. If any of the other three state senators (Creigh Deeds, John Edwards, and Chap Petersen) who are currently opposed stand fast in their opposition, however, the bill would fail.
Right now the focus remains on the House, however. It’s almost certain that HB961 will pass out of committee on Friday, but I don’t think that passage in the House is guaranteed at this point, though I’d put the odds at better than 50-percent. If you’re a Virginia gun owner, make sure your delegate has heard from you on HB961, because they’ll likely be voting on sending it to the state Senate next Monday or Tuesday.