Legislation to ban assault weapons under an expanded definition won’t advance out of the General Assembly this year, a win for gun rights advocates and a setback for Gov. Ralph Northam’s gun control agenda.
A Senate panel on Monday declined to pass legislation introduced by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, that would have banned possession of magazines that can hold more than 12 rounds and the sale of some types of semiautomatic rifles and pistols.
In a 10-5 vote, the Senate Judiciary Committee voted to kick House Bill 961 to next year’s session, calling for a study of the legislation by the Virginia Crime Commission.
The move was led by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, and backed by three other Democrats: Sen. John Edwards of Roanoke, Sen. Chap Petersen of Fairfax City, and Sen. Scott Surovell of Fairfax.
Republicans unified in their opposition to the bill, along with a few dozen gun rights advocates who flooded the committee room to speak against the bill and cheered the vote.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said the bill would have barred multiple features of such weapons, making it stricter than a previous federal ban on assault-style weapons.
Levine's measure would have banned the import, sale and transfer of a semiautomatic rifle or pistol with a pistol grip, a second hand grip, a silencer or a folding stock, among other characteristics — subject to a class 6 felony punishable by up to five years in prison.
It would have also banned possession of magazines that can hold more than 12 rounds of ammunition, subject to a Class 1 misdemeanor punishable by up to 12 months in jail and a $2,500 fine. The sale of such magazines would be subject to a class 6 felony.
The House cleared the measure along party lines last week. House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn expressed disapproval of the Senate panel’s vote in a statement Monday.
"The Democratic platform last fall was very clear,” Filler-Corn said. “The [House] delivered on our promise to take action to keep those weapons off our streets. To call today's vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee a disappointment would be an understatement."
Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for the Northam administration, said in a statement: “While the governor is disappointed in today’s vote, he fully expects the crime commission to give this measure the detailed review that senators called for. We will be back next year,” she said.
“Despite today’s vote, the governor is proud of the several commonsense gun safety measures that continue to advance," she added. "These bills represent historic steps forward in keeping Virginians safe from gun violence. Make no mistake — they will save lives."
Following the vote, the VCDL said in a congratulatory statement to its members: "Next year, the battle will continue, but if we fight like we did this year, vote in every election, and support pro-gun candidates, we will continue to be a force to be reckoned with. We dare not get complacent again."
The House of Delegates has backed all eight of the Northam-backed gun control bills to:
ban assault weapons;
raise penalties for “recklessly” exposing minors to guns;
require reporting of lost or stolen firearms;
ban possession of firearms by people subject to restraining orders;
expand local control over firearm ordinances;
require universal background checks;
limit handgun purchases to one a month; and
give courts the ability to temporarily remove firearms from people in crisis.
The package was not as a successful in the Senate, where just three of the eight measures passed without major amendments and two advanced with changes the House did not adopt.
No lawmaker introduced an assault weapons ban in the Senate, which defeated two other gun control bills Northam backed.