When Virginia’s House Public Safety Committee meets on Friday morning to consider HB961, Democrats will move to modify the current language and remove a registration requirement for so-called “assault firearms,” as well as changing a ban on ammunition magazines that can hold more than ten rounds to a ban on those that can hold more than twelve, according to a draft copy of the legislation reviewed by Bearing Arms.
The changes are clearly meant to mollify some House Democrats who are concerned voting for the sweeping bill could mean the end of their political careers in the 2021, but despite removing the registration requirement for existing owners of the most commonly produced rifle in the country, the bill would still turn the vast majority of the state’s legal gun owners into felons overnight.
There are many problems with the draft substitute language, but let’s start with the fact that by banning the sale, manufacturing, and transfer of so-called “assault firearms,” the legislation is still declaring that these firearms are only allowed to be owned through the good graces of the government. We also know what Democrats really want, which is the outright ban on the possession of these firearms. That was the intent of SB16, the original gun ban bill backed by Gov. Northam. If HB961 becomes law, Democrats will be back in 2021 with their registration requirement, and then back to impose their ban on possession in 2022.
The draft substitute language of HB961 would make it a felony to continue to possess a magazine capable of accepting more than twelve rounds of ammunition after January 1st, 2021. It would also be a felony to continue to possess any legally purchased suppressors after that date, despite the extensive background check performed and the federal tax stamp paid for your property.
The magazine ban alone is likely to turn tens of thousands of Virginians into felons, because they’re not likely to comply with the law. That’s been the case in New Jersey, where a similar ban on 10+ round magazines is in effect, though it is also being challenged in federal court.
If the draft substitute language of HB961 were to become law, it too would face an immediate court challenge. The gun ban, magazine ban, and suppressor ban are all challengeable, and even though the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals (which includes the state of Virginia) ruled back in 2017 that the Second Amendment doesn’t apply to semi-automatic rifles (because they’re “like” machine guns, according to the court), this new legislation presents new legal questions and therefore another opportunity for the court to get it right. The makeup of the 4th Circuit has changed a little bit since 2017, and likely for the better as far as Second Amendment jurisprudence is concerned.
It’s possible (perhaps even likely) that the draft substitute language reviewed by Bearing Arms will be further amended during the House Public Safety Committee on Friday, because at the moment there’s still no real sign that Democrats have the votes within their caucus to pass the bill in its current or modified form. HB961 isn’t coming up for a vote because House leadership is assured of passage. It’s being brought up because of next week’s crossover deadline. If the bill doesn’t start moving now, it’s done for the year, so Democratic leadership is rolling the dice and hoping for the best.
Beating a bad bill is a lot better than having to beat a bad law, and the fate of HB961 is still very much up in the air. No matter who your Delegate is, if you’re a Virginia gun owner, they need to be hearing from you now. HB961 will be heard in the House Public Safety Committee Friday morning, and if it emerges in some form or fashion, a vote on the House floor will take place Monday or Tuesday.
I’m hearing reports that Democrats are continuing to work on the substitute language in the hours before the House Public Safety Committee hearing that begins at 8 a.m. Friday morning, and we may see more changes to the portions of the bill dealing with suppressors and magazines before the committee votes on the measure, which at the moment is slated to be the last bill considered in the hearing.