Virginia considers plan to ban assault weapons | News Coverage from USA

Virginia considers plan to ban assault weapons

Virginia lawmakers are considering a ban on assault weapons and background checks for all gun sales at a special session Tuesday that could have national implications in the effort to turn the tide against the “corrosive influence” of the gun lobby, gun-control lobbyists say.

The proposals are among dozens being considered in the special session coming less than six weeks after a gunman killed 12 people during a rampage in Virginia Beach. Gov. Ralph Northam and other Democratic leaders in the state are hoping the outrage sparked by the carnage will propel their plan through the Legislature.

“Let’s turn our pain into purpose. Let’s come together to pass common sense gun safety laws,” Northam, a Democrat, tweeted hours before the session was to begin.

Supporters of the measures rallied Tuesday at the Capitol in Richmond as Northam led them in vigorous chants of “enough is enough.” Nearby, gun rights supporters held their own demonstration.

The biggest obstacle Northam’s plan faces is numbers – Republicans hold a narrow majorities in the State House and state Senate. The gun issue comes at a politically sensitive time in Virginia, where all 140 seats are up for election in November.

Democrats and the gun-control lobby say GOP rejection of meaningful gun-control legislation could catapult Democrats to control of both legislative bodies.

“The Virginia General Assembly has a chance today to take action against gun violence and to set an example for the rest of the country,” said Kris Brown, president of the Washington-based Brady gun control group.

Brown said most Americans – and Virginians – overwhelmingly support the proposals and implored Republicans lawmakers in the state to support the plan’s key ingredients.

“Should they choose to turn their backs on the victims of Virginia Beach and the countless Virginians who fall victim to gun violence every day, they can rest assured that we will take to the polls in force this November,” Brown said.

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Republicans have routinely killed similar measures in the past, often by not allowing them to emerge from committees or subcommittees, said Carl Tobias, a law professor at the University of Richmond.

“Some of the measures may have a chance after the Virginia Beach shootings,” Tobias told USA TODAY.

The issue carries added weight for Northam, whose governorship was pushed to the political precipice by a blackface scandal that had members of both parties calling for his resignation less than six months ago. Those calls have eased, however, and success with his gun-control legislation could provide a signature success and put the blackface issue firmly in his rearview mirror.

“Many people here think that his reputation has improved,” Tobias said. “He has engaged in much outreach on the the gun safety and other issues.”

The Legislature will consider dozens of bills, including Republican-sponsored measures that would toughen penalties for gun crimes and for domestic abusers.

GOP Sen. Bill Stanley proposed a bill requiring all employees in state and local government buildings to be screened at security points.

“We can either have political theater or serious policy discussion,” Stanley told the Roanoke Times. “I plan to treat this seriously because that’s what people elected me to come here and do. Not pontificate and posture.”

Northam’s package includes background checks on all firearms sales and transactions. The bill mandates that any person selling, renting, trading or transferring a firearm must first obtain the results of a background check before completing the transaction.

He wants to ban assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, bump stocks and silencers and reinstate a law that would allow only one handgun purchase within a 30-day period.

Northam also proposes an Extreme Risk Protective Order, allowing law enforcement and the courts to temporarily separate a person from firearms if the person exhibits dangerous behavior that presents an immediate threat to self or others. All individuals subject to final protective orders also would be banned from possessing firearms.

His measures would also allow local governments to enact any firearms ordinances stricter than state law. 

“No more waiting until the next tragedy,” Northam said.

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