In ‘Disappointment’ To Governor, Assault Weapons Ban Stalls In Blue VA Senate

RICHMOND, VA - January 08: Governor Ralph Northam addresses a joint session of the Virginia General Assembly in Richmond, VA. (Photo by Bill O'Leary/The Washington Post via Getty Images)
February 18, 2020 2:31 p.m.

Four Democrats on the Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee joined with Republicans Monday to kill an assault weapons sale ban that had already passed in the House of Delegates and was championed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D).

“While the Governor is disappointed in yesterday’s vote, he fully expects the Crime Commission to give this measure the detailed review that Senators called for,” Northam press secretary Alena Yarmosky told TPM. “We will be back next year.”

The bill would have prohibited the sale and transport of assault firearms, certain firearm magazines, silencers and trigger activators. Six months after implementation, it also would have outlawed possession of the magazines. Instead, the Senate Judiciary Committee sent the bill to the Crime Commission for further study.

Democratic Sens. R. Creigh Deeds, John Edwards, Chap Petersen and Scott Surovell voted the bill down alongside their Republican peers.

In a statement obtained by TPM, Petersen said he had concerns that the legislation was “overbroad” and feared that it would “criminalize law-abiding citizens” for owning guns and paraphernalia they’d already purchased.

Scovell said in a Facebook post that he “fully supports” the idea behind the legislation, but wants to “continue the conversation” with the Crime Commission.

Democrats flipped both the House and Senate in 2019, solidifying Virginia as a blue trifecta for the first time since 1993.

Northam, a former Army doctor, has made gun control legislation a priority and advocated for eight measures in the wake of a Virginia Beach shooting in May 2019.

Republicans dismissed the bills out of hand, lighting a fire under Democrats before the election.

While the House has passed all of Northam’s choice bills, the Senate has quashed three of them: mandatory reporting of a lost or stolen firearm within 24 hours, making it a felony to leave a firearm within reach of a child 18 years or younger and, now, the assault weapons ban.

The vote even reached the ears of a 2020 presidential candidate, with former Vice President Joe Biden releasing a statement expressing his disappointment with the Senate Judiciary Committee result.

House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, who had led a full-court press to keep wavering Senate Democrats in line, expressed her chagrin on Monday.

“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,” she said. “To call today’s vote on HB 961 by the Senate Judiciary Committee a disappointment would be an understatement.”

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