Virginia Democrats Avoid Gun Control In Special Session

Virginia lawmakers are back in Richmond today for the start of a special session called by Gov. Ralph Northam, but the governor’s gun ban, which was defeated in the state Senate earlier this year, isn’t on the agenda. Instead, the special session will focus on several police reform measures as well as budget issues related to the cratering of the economy thanks to coronavirus-related closures. It’s a somewhat surprising move, considering that Northam has been adamant about reviving his gun ban, and there were rumors just a few weeks ago that one of the Democrat legislators who voted against HB 961 in the regular session was circulating his own version of a gun ban bill in the hopes of attracting support.

It could be that Northam realized he still doesn’t have the support he needs to pass the ban, so rather than risk a second defeat in a matter of months, he decided against pushing HB 961. I think it’s also likely, however, that Northam and Virginia Democrats don’t want to risk giving gun owners any more reasons to turn out in November, so they’re holding off on their anti-gun agenda until after the elections.

There are signs that gun owners are incredibly motivated to vote in the state at the moment, including the results of local elections held back in May, in which pro-2A voters were able to oust anti-gun city council members in the college town of Staunton, as well as elect several other Second Amendment supporters in races across the state. While no state legislators are up for re-election in Virginia this fall, there are several congressional races that are expected to be incredibly close, and a high-profile attempt by Democrats in the state to ban so-called assault weapons, “large capacity” magazines, and lawfully-owned suppressors would not only energize gun owners to turn out to vote, but could pose problems for freshmen Democrat representatives like Abigail Spanberger (VA-07) and Elaine Luria (VA-02), both of whom are facing formidable challenges from the GOP.

Both Spanberger and Luria backed a federal gun ban in 2019, but neither candidate mentions their support for the ban on their campaign websites and haven’t brought up their backing of the ban while on the campaign trail. If Northam and Democrat legislators were to push HB 961 now, it would absolutely emerge as a campaign issue in both contests. Far better, as far as Democrats are concerned, to hold off on any talk about banning guns until after the elections have passed.

Instead of Democrats pushing gun control, the special session which kicks off today features a couple of bills filed by Republicans that seek to delay or dismantle some of the gun control laws that Democrats did pass earlier this year. NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action recently highlighted two of the bills filed by GOP delegate Glenn Davis.

House Bill 5020 exempts holders of a concealed handgun permit from any local ordinances that prohibit possessing, carrying, or transporting firearms and ammunition. Since Senate Bill 35 went into effect on July 1st to weaken Virginia’s decades old preemption law, a number of localities have already started to pass or consider their own restrictions on self-defense. They are creating a confusing patchwork of local gun ban ordinances. HB 5020 removes this confusion, at least for concealed handgun permit holders, and preserves the right to self-defense across the whole Commonwealth.

House Bill 5024 removes the Class 1 misdemeanor penalty for buyers of firearms in private sales without first obtaining government permission. Current law, which was passed this year and went into effect on July 1st, provides the Class 1 misdemeanor penalty for both the buyer and seller if they fail to obtain government permission.

In addition to the House bills, state Senator Richard Stuart has filed SB 5041, which would allow Virginians to continue to use online training for their concealed carry license until January of 2022. At the moment, the ability for concealed carry applicants to use online training will expire on December 31st of this year, but this bill would push back the effective date of that change for twelve months.

It’s highly unlikely that any of the Republican-proposed pieces of legislation will make it to Gov. Northam’s desk. In fact, I’d be shocked if they actually make it out of committee. From now through Election Day, Virginia’s Democrats are going to do everything they can to avoid any specifics about their gun control agenda and will instead focus on meaningless and vacuous phrases like “common sense gun safety,” while leaving out the details of their anti-gun agenda.

If Democrats truly believed that their anti-gun agenda was going to benefit them politically, they’d be embracing Northam’s gun ban. The fact that they’re running away from it tells you all you need to know about the real popularity (or lack thereof) of the sweeping gun control laws that Virginia Democrats want to put in place.