Virginia’s position as the new ground zero of the national gun control debate was reinforced Thursday, as the Democratic-controlled legislature pushed ahead with restrictive measures that have angered gun rights activists across the country.
Legislators adopted a series of measures that effectively answered a massive pro-gun rally in Richmond earlier this month and had spurred counties in Virginia and elsewhere to declare themselves as Second Amendment sanctuaries, the New York Times reports.
Supporters of the measures made no secret of their determination to counter the gun lobby.
Speaking on the House floor, Delegate Patrick Hope, a Democrat, said all of the Democratic bills would save lives and that similar measures already are doing so in other states.
“For too many years this body has put the convenience of gun owners above all else,” he said, the Wall Street Journal reported.
Along mostly party-line votes, measures approved by the House of Delegates included:
- Limiting handgun purchases to one each month
- Requiring background checks for all firearms sales and transfers, and
- Imposing a “red flag” law that allows the confiscation of guns from people deemed by courts to be dangerous to themselves or others.
The Senate has approved four gun limits, including limiting handgun purchases, allowing municipalities to ban guns in certain public areas, and background checks.
Gov. Ralph Northam has said he will sign gun restrictions, which would still require redrafting next month to reconcile different language from the two chambers before final legislative passage.
One reason Virginia politicians are now favoring gun control measures is illustrated by a stretch off land near the capital in Richmond where a Democrat won a state Senate seat from a Republican last fall.
Once rural areas have been developed into housing that attracts young professionals.
The newcomers often have brought different, more liberal political sensibilities, becoming a potent force on gun safety issues. Democrat Ghazala Hashmi won a Senate seat, defeating Glen Sturtevant Jr., a Republican incumbent who had been endorsed by the National Rifle Association.
In interviews this week with about two dozen people who live in her Senate district, many supported restrictions on firearms to prevent gun violence, including suicides.
Soon after Democrats won control of the Virginia general assembly in November, for the first time in more than two decades, a backlash emerged that effectively turned the state into the latest battleground over gun rights, the New Yorker reported.
Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun-control group founded by Michael Bloomberg, had spent two and a half million dollars in Virginia in 2019, eight times more than the National Rifle Association.
The gun debate reflects demographic changes that have dramatically widened divisions between the dense liberal population in Richmond, the Washington suburbs, and around its universities, and a conservative majority in its rural areas.
In the weeks after the election, a backlash began. Dozens of counties and municipalities declared themselves gun-rights “sanctuaries,” language lifted from the immigrant-rights movement.