As of today, Democrats hold a one-seat advantage in both chambers of Virginia’s legislature (though that could change depending on the outcome of a lawsuit filed against a Democratic state senator who allegedly doesn’t reside in the district she was elected to represent). That slim majority may give Democrats the numbers they need to pass all kinds of gun control measures, but with Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin in office until early 2026 and ready to wield his veto pen, it looks like Democrats are keeping their powder dry (so to speak) when it comes to things like a ban on so-called assault weapons.
Instead, according to the Virginia Mercury, Democrats are likely to focus on expanding some of the anti-gun laws they put in place in 2020 and 2021, when they controlled the legislature as well as the governor’s office.
Though Youngkin ran as a gun-rights supporter, he hasn’t fully embraced the absolutist rhetoric of groups like the National Rifle Association.
His views might be tested in the new legislature, with Democrats promising to push forward with enhancements to the state’s red flag law and toughening laws requiring gun owners to keep firearms locked up away from children.
“The first bill I will submit in the Senate is the safe storage legislation I’ve carried in the House. We can and must do more to keep our kids safe from gun violence,” Sen.-elect Schuyler VanValkenburg, D-Henrico said on X after defeating Republican Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant. “The Governor should sign it when it passes the House and Senate.”
After a 6-year-old student shot a teacher at a Newport News Elementary School early this year, VanValkenburg introduced a bill that would’ve created criminal penalties for gun owners if their firearms are taken by minors and used to commit a crime or violence. Opponents argued the state’s existing laws already criminalized that behavior in other ways. The mother of the Newport News shooter pleaded guilty to felony child neglect in August, but her charge of endangering a child by reckless storage of a firearm was set aside in court
The recent mass shooting in Lewiston, Maine has also led Virginia Democrats to call for reinvigorating the red flag law their party passed in 2020 as part of a landmark gun-control package.
Democrats also could re-up their push to restrict the sales of assault-style weapons, but that could be a more difficult task, given their small majorities and the party’s inability to agree on the issue the last time it had control.
It’s not the “small majorities” or an inability to agree on a gun ban that’s likely to keep it off the table for the next two years. After all, the Democrat-controlled state Senate approved a gun ban measure earlier this year, though it didn’t get far in the Republican-controlled House of Delegates. Sadly, there’s not much disagreement between Dems when it comes to a gun ban these days. Even state Senator Creigh Deeds, who was one of several Democrats to oppose a ban in 2020, is now on board with banning the sale of modern sporting rifles.
Youngkin is also just as likely to veto a “red flag” expansion as he is a ban on semi-automatic firearms, so the idea that the Democrats’ reluctance to push for a gun ban next year is all about trying to pass measures he’d support doesn’t pass the smell test. The real reason why Democrats are likely to take a pass on a gun ban bill is that they don’t want to rile up gun owners ahead of the 2025 elections. We’ve already seen Democratic gubernatorial candidate Abigail Spanberger avoid any mention of her own support for a ban in her introductory video to voters, and I suspect that most of her Democratic colleagues in the legislature will do the same in the upcoming session. Why risk a repeat of 2021, when gun owners turned out in large numbers to elect Republicans to every statewide office after Democrats tried to ram an “assault weapons” ban through the legislature the previous year?
Virginia Democrats will be doing their best to portray themselves as moderates between now and the next statewide elections in 2025, and that means keeping talk of a gun ban to a minimum. If they’re successful in keeping control of the legislature and wresting control of the governor’s office from the GOP two years from now, however, a semi-auto ban will not only be back on the table but one of their top priorities in the 2026 session.