Virginia lawmakers blocked a ban on sales of assault weapons as part of a package of gun control measures that Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam had promised and gun owners have fought fiercely to defeat.
The Senate Judiciary Committee voted Monday to hit pause on the House bill that would ban the sales of some semiautomatic firearms and ban the possession of magazines with more than 12 rounds and some firearm accessories.
With four moderate Democrats joining Republicans, the committee voted to defer a vote until 2021 and asked the state crime commission to study the issue.
The bill’s temporary defeat is a blow to Northam’s and Democrats’ policy agenda, which has featured a slew of liberal measures passing both legislative houses, including other gun control regulations.
“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,” Northam’s spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky said.
Sen. Scott Surovell, one of the Democrats who sided with Republicans in the vote, said he supported the idea of increasing regulations of assault rifles but that the bill had “numerous issues that needed to be refined.”
Surovell also cited limited time in the General Assembly’s legislative session and wanting to focus on “legislation that can pass this session.”
“We will focus on assault rifles next session when we have more time after the Crime Commission has come up with a more workable product,” Surovell said in a statement.
The national gun debate has centered on Virginia after Democrats won control of both houses in November and Northam, embroiled in scandal a year ago over a yearbook photo showing blackface, remained in office.
Democrats argued that the ban and other gun control measures would make Virginians safer. They also worked to dispel myths that Northam would call on state authorities to confiscate firearms.
However, the assault weapon sales ban drew the strongest pushback from Republicans and groups of gun owners who saw it as an affront to the Second Amendment.
Just weeks after the newly-elected General Assembly took office, a rally of thousands of gun supporters gathered in Richmond to show their opposition to the bills. Many openly carried assault-style weapons as alleged threats of violence prompted Northam to declare a state of emergency and ban weapons on the state Capitol’s grounds. The rally was peaceful and went on without incident.
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