The Virginia House of Delegates has passed several pieces of gun-control legislation, but some of the measures face an uncertain future in the more conservative Senate.
The Democrat-led House approved seven gun measures Thursday, largely along party lines. The legislation will now go to the Senate for a vote, which has already passed its version of some of the measures but has shown signs that others may not survive. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats, but the Senate is the more conservative of the two chambers on gun issues.
Virginia has become ground zero in the nation's raging debate over gun control and mass shootings as a new Democratic majority has pledged to put strict new limits in place.
“For too many years this body has put the convenience of gun owners above all else,” said Democratic Del. Patrick Hope.
The new majority's agenda has sparked an immense backlash. Last week, tens of thousands of guns-rights activists from around the country flooded the Capitol and the surrounding area in protest, some donning tactical gear and military rifles.
Republicans said Democrats are rushing legislation without thinking through unintended consequences, and law-abiding gun owners will be unfairly penalized.
“Once you lose one freedom, you tend to lose your other freedoms,” said Republican Del. John McGuire.
Both chambers will hash out any differences between their respective gun-control measures in coming weeks. The proposed bills include limiting handgun purchases to once a month; universal background checks on gun purchases; and a red flag bill that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from anyone deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.
But other measures passed by the House and pushed by Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, have not passed the Senate and may not be able to secure a majority vote there. Those include a bill that would make it a felony to “recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm" in a way that endangers children and a bill requiring gun owners to report any firearms that are lost or stolen.
Democratic Sen. John Edwards, head of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, said he wasn't sure if those bills would pass the Senate, or if he supports them himself.
“I don't know,” he said.
Several Senate Democrats have already said they are unlikely to back the governor's ban on so-called assault weapons, such as the popular AR-15-style rifles — a key part of Northam's gun-control package. The House version of the bill has also not advanced.
The assault weapons legislation has drawn the fiercest pushback, as gun-rights advocates accuse Democrats of wanting to confiscate such rifles from current gun owners. Northam has said he has no interest in doing so.
An estimated 8 million AR-style guns have been sold since they were introduced to the public in the 1960s. The weapons are known as easy to use, easy to clean and easy to modify with a variety of scopes, stocks and rails.
Guns were a key topic of last year's legislative elections — particularly after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach claimed a dozen lives — and gun-control groups heavily funded Democratic candidates.
Gun owners, meanwhile, have descended on local government offices to demand they establish sanctuaries for gun rights. More than 100 counties, cities and towns have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries and vowed to oppose any new “unconstitutional restrictions” on guns.