NEWPORT NEWS, Va. (WRIC) — Ahead of the special session of the Virginia General Assembly to address gun control, the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University released Wednesday the findings of two polls that show the majority of Virginians believe it’s more important to control who owns guns than protecting gun ownership rights (54%-41% in 2018; 55%-41% in 2016). 

The surveys of registered voters conducted in 2016 and 2018 showed partisan gaps on the general question of gun control versus gun rights. Democrats strongly favored gun control (82%-13% in 2018; 82%-15% in 2016). Republicans favored gun rights (64%-32% in 2018; 66%-31% in 2016).

However, there was more of a disagreement when voters were asked about specific gun control policies.

  • Both sides favored the requirement if background checks for all gun sales (84% in 2018; 88% in 2016). Support was strong among both Democrats (96% in 2018; 96% in 2016) and Republicans (76% in 2018; 81% in 2016).
  • Allowing anyone who legally owns a gun to conceal carry without a permit was overwhelmingly opposed overall (76% in 2018; 84% in 2016). Opposition was strong among both Democrats (88% in 2018; 93% in 2016) and Republicans (72% in 2018; 77% in 2016).
  • Banning assault-style weapons was supported by a strong majority overall (65%-34% in 2018; 62%-33% in 2016) but a partisan split was evident.  Democrats overwhelmingly supported a ban (84%-16% in 2018; 86%-12% in 2016). Republicans split evenly on the proposal in 2018 (49%-49%) and opposed it by a slight majority in 2016 (50%-45%).   

“With some close contests in the November election, this gun-control disconnect among Republican voters could put Republican lawmakers in a tight spot in the special session,” Wason Center Director Quentin Kidd said. “Their voters oppose gun control generally but strongly favor specific gun control proposals that will likely be on the agenda in the special session.”

The 2018 survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.6%. The 2016 survey has a margin of error of +/- 3.5%.

Governor Ralph Northam signed a proclamation summoning General Assembly members back to Richmond in July for a special session to address gun violence in the Commonwealth.

That came three days after Northam announced he would be urging the General Assembly to take up a new package of gun-control legislation in the wake of a May 31 mass shooting in Virginia Beach.

Northam’s bills include a ban on silencers and high-capacity magazines, as well as a broadening of the ability of local governments to limit guns in city buildings. The governor said he also wants mandatory, universal background checks before gun purchases; a limit of one handgun purchase per month; and a “red flag” law that would allow authorities to seize the weapons of those who are a threat to themselves or others.

Gov. Northam’s proposed package includes:

  • Legislation requiring 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.
  • Legislation banning dangerous weapons. This will include bans on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, bump stocks and silencers.
  • Legislation to reinstate Virginia’s successful law allowing only one handgun purchase within a 30-day period.
  • Legislation requiring that lost and stolen firearms be reported to law enforcement within 24 hours.
  • Legislation creating 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.
  • Legislation prohibiting all individuals subject to final protective orders from possessing firearms. The bill expands Virginia law which currently prohibits individuals subject to final protective orders of family abuse from possessing firearms.
  • Legislation enhancing the punishment for allowing access to loaded, unsecured firearm by a child from a Class 3 Misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony. The bill also raises the age of the child from 14 to 18.
  • Legislation enabling localities to enact any firearms ordinances that are stricter than state law. This includes regulating firearms in municipal buildings, libraries and at permitted events.

The National Rifle Association has fired back at his ideas.

“Gov. Northam and his media allies are desperate to deflect attention from scandals involving all three statewide officeholders and are trying to scape-goat Virginia’s law-abiding gun owners for the actions of a madman,” the gun rights group posted on its website. 

The special session will take place on Tuesday, July 9.