Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s sweeping gun, magazine, and suppressor ban was defeated in the state senate’s Judiciary Committee Monday morning in front of a crowd of gun owners and Second Amendment supporters. Four Democrats joined every Republican on the committee in rejecting HB961, which had narrowly advanced out of the House of Delegates just before a legislative deadline last week.
Committee chairman John Edwards joined fellow Democrats Chap Petersen, Creigh Deeds, Scott Surovell, and every Republican on the committee to send the bill to the Virginia Crime Commission for further study, which kills the bill’s chances for this legislative session.
The gun ban bill was the first on the docket for the Judiciary Committee, and GOP members grilled bill sponsor Del. Mark Levine over his definition of an “assault weapon,” the arbitrary ban on ammunition magazines that can hold more than twelve rounds, and other aspects of the legislation.
“This weapons restriction is clearly constitutional,” claimed Levine, noting that in a challenge to a similar ban in Maryland, the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals declared that so-called assault weapons are not protected by the Second Amendment. What Levine didn’t say is that the U.S. Supreme Court hasn’t taken up a case dealing with semi-automatic long guns.
Gov. Northam’s director of public safety, Brian Moran, also claimed the bill would pass constitutional muster by citing the Kolbe case as well, calling the guns that would be banned under HB961 “weapons of war.” According to the National Shooting Sports Foundation, the guns that would have been banned under the bill are the most commonly manufactured rifles in the United States today, and the U.S. Supreme Court has said that arms that are in common use for lawful purposes are protected by the Second Amendment.
Levine also claimed that HB961 didn’t “infringe on anyone’s rights,” though it absolutely would have infringed on the rights of those Virginians who would seek to purchase one of these firearms, magazines, or suppressors after the ban went into effect. Additionally, any owner of a magazine defined as “high capacity” would have been guilty of a misdemeanor if they continued to possess the magazines they currently own.
While the gun, magazine, and suppressor bill is dead for this legislative session, it will almost surely be back again next year, and in the meantime Gov. Northam will likely get a chance to sign several gun control bills, including measures that would roll back the state’s firearm preemption law, change training requirements for concealed carry licensees, and more.
Still, Virginia gun owners can rightfully be pleased and proud that their activism and engagement helped to defeat HB961, which was the centerpiece of Gov. Northam’s anti-gun agenda. Even as the bill was watered down to attract the support of House Democrats, four Democrats in the state Senate (the three mentioned above as well as Sen. Lywood Lewis) continued to voice their concern or reservations about the legislation.
We still have a long way to go and some dark days ahead of us in terms of our Second Amendment rights in Virginia, but at least for today we can take a deep breath and a quick victory lap over the defeat of Ralph Northam’s gun, magazine, and suppressor ban.