Crucial Vote Coming Monday For Northam's Gun Ban Bill
AP Photo/Steve Helber

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s gun, magazine, suppressor, and trigger activator ban is scheduled to be heard in the state senate’s Judiciary Committee next Monday morning, and it will likely be the best opportunity to kill the bill before it can get to Northam’s desk.

HB961 narrowly passed out of the Virginia House of Delegates a few days ago, but the bigger hurdle for the bill was always going to be in the state Senate. Four Democrats in that chamber have expressed their opposition to the bill in its original form, though only Sen. Lynwood Lewis has flat out stated he won’t vote for any bill that bans guns or magazines.

Lewis isn’t on the Judiciary Committee, but the other three senators who’ve expressed reservations (Chap Petersen, Creigh Deeds, and John Edwards)  all happen to be assigned to the committee that will hear the bill Monday morning. In fact, Sen. Edwards is actually the committee chairman. How those three Democrats vote on Monday will determine whether the bill not only passes out of committee, but the full Senate as well.

Sen. Chap Petersen has moderated several of the gun control bills that have passed out of the Senate, and has actually helped to kill a couple of bad bills in committee, including a lost-or-stolen measure and a bill that could have criminalized allowing teenagers access to a firearm for hunting or self-defense, regardless of how much training they might have had.

Opponents have warned the bill could have ramifications for teen hunting in rural areas where handling guns at an early age is more common and give prosecutors more leeway to charge parents after gun-related accidents.

“When my son was 16 he came home from school and thanks to having access to a firearm was able to interrupt wild dogs attacking our livestock,” said Will Shaw of Louisa County. “Under this law, I’d be risking a year behind bars for allowing him that access.”

Democrats have said anyone worried about being ensnared by the tougher law can just make sure they’re storing firearms safely.

“It would be left up to the discretion of that prosecutor whether or not your actions were actually reckless,” said Del. Cliff Hayes, D-Chesapeake, the sponsor of the House bill. “I would simply say: Don’t leave your loaded, unsecured firearms recklessly in the presence of minors.”

Funny, I thought Gov. Northam told us that his gun control laws would be followed, and that sheriffs and prosecutors in Second Amendment Sanctuaries didn’t have any discretion on whether or not to enforce his laws.

Anyway, I’d say Petersen is the most likely Democrat on the committee to vote against HB961 on Monday. Creigh Deeds, who also voted against the storage law, is a close second in my opinion. Sen. Edwards, the committee chair, has so far not voted against any of the gun control proposals that he’s shepherded through to the Senate floor, and I’m a little worried that he’ll back more revisions to the bill, perhaps grandfathering in existing owners of magazines that would be banned, in hopes of getting Deeds, Petersen, and eventually Lewis on board with the bill by arguing that it doesn’t actually ban any existing gun or magazine.

That’s the big question: do they have the votes to pass it, or do they just want to kill it and get it over with. HB961 didn’t move at all until close to the legislative deadline to pass out of the house because it didn’t have the votes until Northam started watering down the bill. Either Sen. Edwards knows the bill isn’t ever going to be in an acceptable form to pass the committee, or he knows he can make it acceptable to a majority, but Northam’s not going to have weeks to bargain on this bill behind the scenes as he did in the House.

If two of the three Democrats who’ve said they oppose HB961 stay the course, the bill is done for (I don’t see any Republican voting for the measure). If only one of them opposes the measure, the bill would pass on to the floor of the state senate, where Sen. Lewis already says he opposes the bill. The Democrats hold a 21-19 majority, so if Lewis and the one holdout from the committee were to remain firm in opposition, the bill would be defeated on the Senate floor.

I’m cautiously optimistic that we can kill the bill in committee, but at the same time, I know what a priority this is for Northam and I suspect that Sen. Edwards wants to be a good party man for the governor. I urge every Virginia gun owner to spend some time this weekend contacting their state senator, particularly if they’re on the Judiciary Committee. Be polite, be civil, but be crystal clear that HB961 is unsupportable in any form. You can find out who your state senator is here.