This is big news in Virginia politics, even though I don’t think the proposed ban and voluntary “buyback” of so-called assault weapons is going to get anywhere close to Gov. Glenn Younkin’s desk. But Sen. Creigh Deeds was one of just four Democratic state senators who voted against Gov. Ralph Northam’s gun ban in 2020, providing the votes for the measure’s defeat. Two years later and Deeds is back with a bill of his own; one he says is more “narrowly tailored” and grandfathers in existing gun owners.
Deeds said his new bill would more narrowly define assault-style weapons, and that guns manufactured before the effective date of the legislation, if passed, would be exempt from the ban on sale and transfer.
He proposes a buy-back program for assault-style weapons grandfathered by the legislation. And an age restriction of 21 and older would be placed on possessing an assault-style weapon produced before or after the active date of the legislation.
The legislation is “aimed at reducing firearms that are flowing onto the streets,” without violating the right to self-defense, Deeds said.
Believe it or not there was a time when Deeds didn’t sound like someone reading from a note card of talking points provided by Everytown. Back in 2005 the NRA even endorsed Deeds over Republican Bob McDonnell for Attorney General. Since then Deeds has drifted further and further towards the conventional Democratic positions on gun control and the Second Amendment, and his proposed gun ban puts him well to the left of “moderate” Democrats like Joe Manchin.
The timing of this is also odd, to say the least. Virginia has off-year elections, and next year both chambers of the state legislature will be up for grabs. At the moment Republicans have a slim majority in the House, while Democrats hold a narrow advantage in the state Senate. Deeds represents a deep blue district centered around Charlottesville and part of the Shenandoah Valley, so he’s not likely to face any electoral repercussions for sponsoring a gun ban bill, but this is the type of legislation that will drive up turnout among gun owners and conservatives across the state, but particularly in rural areas. Gun owners had been waiting two years to vote out those lawmakers who tried to ban their guns, and they turned out in force in 2021 and helped Republicans sweep the table and install Youngkin into office along with Winsome Sears as lt. governor, Jason Miyares as AG, and the aforementioned Republican majority in the House of Delegates. Deeds just gave them a very big reason for them to be back at the ballot box next November and remind Democrats why the party of gun control is only getting 20-25% of the vote in many rural counties.
From a political perspective, I think Deeds ban is going to backfire. He can try to “narrowly tailor” his ban all he wants, but I don’t see any Republicans in the legislature going along with an actual ban of any kind, grandfather clause or not. And the more narrow his bill is, the less likely it is to satisfy the demands of Democrats. Given that next year is an election year for state lawmakers, most of the Democrats running for re-election have no reason to go small on a gun ban. In order to appeal to their base they want to go big. And honestly, if you think the most commonly-sold rifles in the country are weapons of war that don’t belong in the hands of American citizens, why would you want a narrowly-crafted bill that still stands no chance of being signed into law?
But if Creigh Deeds wants to make a gun ban part of the campaign debates in the commonwealth next year, most Republicans will be happy to oblige… and run on defending our right to bear arms instead of turning it into a crime.