RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- Virginia Democrats appear to be backing off a ban on the new sale of assault weapons–at least for now–but that won’t stop Second Amendment supporters from rallying in Richmond come January.
At the beginning of 2020, a slew of gun control bills brought thousands to the State Capitol in protest, drawing national attention and criticism from President Donald Trump. The ban was arguably the most controversial in a package of eight proposals pushed by Gov. Ralph Northam in response to a mass shooting in Virginia Beach in 2019.
Ultimately, Senate Democrats rejected the bill after it passed in the House. The legislation, sponsored by Del. Mark Levine (D-Alexandria), would’ve banned the new sale and transfer of assault-style weapons and the possession of high-capacity magazines.
After a committee vote ended the ban’s chances in the 2020 session, Northam’s office assured the bill would be back in 2021.
Now, Levine says he’s deferring action on the legislation, blaming a shortened and largely virtual session, as well as a new cap on the number of bills that can be introduced by each delegate.
“Most of the session will be devoted to things that are less controversial. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up fighting for this cause,” Levine told 8News in an interview on Tuesday. “The goal is to stop making it really easy to commit mass murder.”
Levine, who just announced his bid for Lieutenant Governor, said he doesn’t expect any of his Democratic colleagues to introduce the bill in 2021 either, though it can’t be ruled out.
Before the proposal failed, several Democratic Senators raised concerns about the bill’s definition of assault weapons. Levine said, between responding to COVID-19 and calls for police reform, there hasn’t been a lot of time to work through these tedious details.
“We haven’t had enough of these conversations to flush it out,” Levine said.
A continuation of Democratic control in the General Assembly is not guaranteed after the 2021 session. Every member of the House of Delegates is up for re-election later that year. Virginians will also cast their ballots for a new governor.
In an interview on Monday, 8News asked Gov. Northam if waiting to revisit the issue is the right decision or if Democrats should be acting with more urgency to fulfill one of their top campaign promises.
“It was a campaign promise that a lot of us ran on. I think it was a large reason why the House switched from Republican control to Democratic control,” Northam said. “That one bill on assault weapons didn’t move forward but six other pieces of legislation did and I think because of that Virginia is a safer state.”
“But I’ll leave that up to the discretion of the legislature and whatever they do I’ll be supportive of,” Northam continued.
Northam said he’s not personally pushing the General Assembly to address the measure in 2021.
Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave said anti-gun control advocates plan to rally on January 18th, regardless of whether Democrats bring back the ban.
“I certainly hope that is the case but we will not count on that,” Van Cleave said. “We’ll be there.”
Van Cleave said the plan is for thirteen car caravans from across the state to converge at different times at the State Capitol. He said turn out is expected to be high, as the VCDL’s membership has quadrupled since this time last year.
“We’re there saying no gun control. We’re tired of gun control. We want to get rid of everything that they just passed,” Van Cleave said.