Virginia Legislature Adjourns Without Passing Ban On "Ghost Guns"

AP Photo/Eric Gay, File

A bill that would have criminalized the possession and sale of unfinished firearm frames and receivers appears dead for the year after a conference committee in the Virginia legislature announced over the weekend that there would be no further action taken on the measure.


The Virginia Shooting Sports Association was quick to pick up on the brief announcement by the clerk of the state Senate on Saturday afternoon, and I’ve received confirmation from multiple sources at the state Capitol in Richmond that HB 2276 looks to be dead in the water for the remainder of the session.

From what my sources are telling me, there are a couple of reasons why HB 2276 never received a vote in the conference committee. First, Democrats got tied up on hammering out disagreements on high profile issues like a bill to legalize recreational marijuana sales in the state, but Sen. Chap Petersen also appears to have played a major role in keeping the ban on unfinished firearms from getting a vote in the conference committee.

Petersen, a Democrat from Fairfax County, opposed HB 2276 on the Senate floor with both a speech and his vote, and my sources say that he played an important role in stopping a vote on the measure in the conference committee this weekend as well.

The bill, authored by Del. Marcus Simon, had already been watered down at that point to make the measure more palatable for some rural and swing district Democrats, but the changes also meant that the bill would have been next to impossible to enforce.


It’s untraceable, and it really evades the entire system,” said Simon. “You build the gun yourself and it’s got no serial number. You require no background check. There was no age limit to purchase it.”

Although the original version of his bill outlawed all old guns without serial numbers, senators changed it to grandfather in all firearms that predated the new law. Advocates say they liked Simon’s original version better, but in the sausage-making factory of the General Assembly this is the kind of compromise that’s often needed to get bills to the governor’s desk.

Well, not this year. I would have loved to have heard Del. Simon explain how law enforcement would be able to determine when a homemade firearm had actually been built, but we’ll probably have to wait until next session to hear his explanation.

As for Petersen, I wouldn’t be surprised if he’s the target of a primary opponent in two years, given the fact that he helped to defeat Gov. Ralph Northam’s gun ban last year and appears to have played at least some part in the scuttling of this year’s ban on unfinished firearm parts. Petersen’s gone along with some of the anti-gun legislation that has passed this year, but he’s been a “no” on the most high profile gun control bills over the past two years, and I’m sure that Moms Demand Action and Everytown for Gun Safety are already thinking of a primary challenge when the state Senate is up for re-election in 2023.


Before we get to that election, however, we have to get through the 2021 elections in Virginia, when voters will choose a governor, lt. governor, attorney general, and every seat in the House of Delegates. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe has to be considered the Democratic front-runner at this point in the race, and he’s already declared that, if elected, he’ll be pushing for a ban on modern sporting rifles and ammunition magazines with a capacity greater than ten rounds.

Virginia’s legislature adjourned its regular session on Monday morning, but there’s always the chance that Gov. Ralph Northam could bring lawmakers back for a special session at a later date. For that reason, I hesitate to declare HB 2276 officially dead, but I’m fairly confident that this is the last we’ll see of the bill before Election Day.


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