The Virginia State Senate Judiciary Committee sank the hopes of Governor Ralph Northam’s bill to expand the definition of “assault weapons,” in a bit of a surprise. Earlier this month, the narrowly divided Virginia House of Delegates passed the bill, 51-48. Democrats in the Senate were less enthusiastic, and Monday morning, Committee chairman John Edwards, Democrats Chap Petersen, Creigh Deeds, Scott Surovell, and all committee Republicans voted to send the bill to the Virginia Crime Commission for further study, meaning it will not be passed in this session.
The National Rifle Association is pleased: “This is a victory for honest, hard-working Virginians who shared their support for the Second Amendment in rallies on the capitol, in one-on-one meetings with their lawmakers, in letters-to-the-editor, and in phone calls, emails,and texts to their state senators,” NRA spokesperson Catherine Mortensen said in a released statement. “We thank the senators on the judiciary committee for listening to their constituents and delivering a bi-partisan defeat of an egregious gun ban that would have criminalized law-abiding gun owners.”
Efforts to enact gun-control legislation will probably never cease completely, but today has to be a real kick in the teeth for gun-control groups. Virginia Democrats winning control of both chambers, while having a Democratic governor, was seen as the best opportunity in a generation to pass new gun regulations. But those majorities were narrow, and the attitudes about guns in those districts that flipped did not. Edwards and Deeds represent Roanoke and Bath County, respectively, districts with plenty of gun owners. Deeds told the Roanoke Times in January, “I grew up in Bath County, I grew up hunting, I grew up handling firearms at a very early age, and I’m not about to tell people that the lifestyle I lived when I was a little boy is not a lifestyle they can have.” The pair were always going to be cautious at best about any sweeping change to Virginia’s gun laws.
House of Delegates speaker Eileen Filler-Corn issued a statement that suggested her chamber had done their jobs, but Senate Democrats failed to do theirs: “The Democratic platform last fall was very clear. Limiting access to weapons of war used in mass murder was a key part of that platform. The House of Delegates delivered on our promise to take action to keep those weapons off our streets.”
This morning, Amanda Chase, a Republican state senator from Chesterfield County, announced she will be running for governor in 2021, and cited the Democratic efforts for gun control as a key reason she decided to run.