The House has passed all eight of Northam’s bills. But four Democrats — Sens. Creigh Deeds (Bath), John Edwards (Roanoke), Chap Petersen (Fairfax) and Scott Surovell (Fairfax) — sided with Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee to reject the assault-weapons bill for the year. On a 10-5 vote, the committee sent the measure to the state’s Crime Commission for study.
“Bunch of wimps,” Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth) said from the dais, referring to the four.
Philip Van Cleave, the Virginia Citizens Defense League president who organized a huge gun-rights rally in Richmond last month and encouraged “Second Amendment sanctuary” declarations across the state, celebrated on Twitter.
“VICTORY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!” Van Cleave tweeted. “Everybody’s hard work, Lobby Day, and sanctuary movement paid off!”
Northam was “disappointed” with the vote but “fully expects the Crime Commission to give this measure the detailed review that Senators called for. We will be back next year,” spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said in an email.
House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax) — who had challenged the Senate to pass all eight bills in a speech over the weekend — reacted more sharply.
“The Democratic platform last fall was very clear,” she said in a statement. “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. To call today’s vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee a disappointment would be an understatement.”
Sponsored by Del. Mark H. Levine (D-Alexandria), the measure would have prohibited the sale or transfer of those firearms beginning July 1, and outlaw possession of the magazines six months later, on Jan. 1.
As originally introduced, the bill would have banned all possession of assault weapons, forcing owners to give them up. But the House Public Safety Committee modified it to prohibit only sales and transfers. Anyone who legally owned those guns before the law took effect would be allowed to keep them.
The measure took a harder line on magazines that hold more than 12 rounds and on bump stocks, banning their sale and possession. Bump stocks, attachments that make a gun fire more rapidly, are already subject to a federal ban.
Senators did not debate the merits of the bill before voting. Deeds simply noted that there were “a lot of questions” about the definition of assault weapon before moving to wait on the bill for the year. Democratic supporters tried to counter with a motion to hold out only for the day, but Deeds prevailed.
The bill was the most controversial part of Northam’s gun-control agenda, with gun-rights activists warning that the state was planning to confiscate firearms. Since the election, more than 110 Virginia counties, cities and towns have passed some type of “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolution, many of them asserting that local officials will not enforce laws they consider unconstitutional. Gun-rights activists staged an enormous rally on Capitol Square in January, drawing heavily armed militias from across the country.
The House has approved the governor’s other seven gun-control bills, which would:
●Enact universal background checks on private gun sales.
●Require an owner to report the loss or theft of a firearm within 24 hours.
●Give local governments the authority to ban weapons from public buildings and at certain events.
●Create a “red flag” law, or extreme risk protective order, under which authorities can temporarily seize firearms from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others.
●Limit handgun purchases to one per month, a policy that was in effect in Virginia until 2012.
●Tighten the law prohibiting access to firearms for someone subject to a protective order.
●Make it a felony to “recklessly” leave a firearm within reach of anyone age 18 or younger, up from the current age of 14, a measure known as “child access prevention.”
The Senate, which had no assault weapons bill of its own, has passed five of the governor’s bills. The Senate’s bill on lost or stolen firearms was rejected in a floor vote, with Petersen and Sen. Lynwood W. Lewis Jr. (D-Accomack) voting against it. Its version of the child-access prevention bill died in committee, with Petersen and Deeds joining Republicans in opposition.
“Despite today’s vote, the Governor is proud of the several common-sense gun safety measures that continue to advance,” Yarmosky said. “These bills represent historic steps forward in keeping Virginians safe from gun violence. Make no mistake — they will save lives.”
With the assault-weapons vote looming, Filler-Corn had tried to put pressure on Senate Democrats in her speech at party gala headlined by presidential candidate Mike Bloomberg (D). The gun-control group the former New York mayor founded, Everytown for Gun Safety, counts itself as the largest outside donor to Virginia Democrats last year, with $2.5 million in direct and indirect spending.
“Governor Northam, you gave us eight common-sense gun violence prevention bills,” she said in her speech. “In the House of Delegates, we passed every single one — eight for eight. Let’s get this done.”
An earlier version of this article reported incorrectly that three Democrats had voted to kill the assault weapons bill. In fact, four voted to do so. This article has been updated.