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VA Gov’s ‘assault weapons’ proposal would ban new AR-15s; force registration or surrender of all existing

AR-15 rifle. (Michael Guio/Flickr)
December 11, 2019

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam is backing a proposed ban on “assault weapons” that would prohibit the sale of many semi-automatic firearm designs like the AR-15, but would grandfather existing owners of the weapons so long as they are registered — or else face surrender.

The Governor’s proposed ban is one of several gun control ideas being considered by the newly Democrat-controlled Virginia state legislature. According to Virginia Mercury, many Democratic party leaders are still deciding on a clear position for how they will deal with the classes of firearms and accessories they intend to ban, but that are already owned in the state.

Northam’s proposal differentiates from another controversial gun control proposal by Sen. Richard Saslaw, which would not create a carve-out for existing owners who currently possess a firearm or firearm component that may eventually be banned under Virginia state law.

“In this case, the governor’s assault weapons ban will include a grandfather clause for individuals who already own assault weapons, with the requirement they register their weapons before the end of a designated grace period,” Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Northam, said in a Monday statement.

Yarmosky said details about this proposal and other bills would be revealed prior to Virginia’s 2020 General Assembly. Other legislation has proposed magazine capacity limits for firearms, along with other features like suppressors, folding or telescoping stocks, pistol grips, thumbhole stocks, bayonet mounts and rail mounts that can support a grenade launcher.

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Saslaw, when asked about Northam’s new bill by Virginia Mercury reporters, said his bill would not be the main assault weapons proposal for the legislative session. Of Northam’s support for a grandfather clause, Saslaw said “that would make sense.”

Saslaw also spoke to reassure that he does not intend for his more restrictive gun control proposal to result in mass incarcerations of Virginians who would stick to their guns.

“I’m not going to lock up a large part of Virginia,” he said.

His proposed bill did note, “The provisions of this act may result in a net increase in periods of imprisonment or commitment.”

Many gun rights activists have opposed Saslaw’s proposal and other proposed gun control signalled by Virginia lawmakers. Northam’s proposed grandfather clause may still lack the support of many gun rights activists.

“Who are WE to negotiate away the right of future generations to own AR-15s, or their equivalent, and magazines of whatever capacity they want?” the pro-gun Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) said in an email to supporters. “Who are WE to give away the right of future generations to protect themselves from criminals or from a government that’s gone tyrannical, just so we can selfishly have our guns and magazines now?”

The VCDL has reportedly supported various efforts by Virginia counties, cities and towns to declare themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” deprioritizing the enforcement of new gun laws.

Dozens of locales have already passed their own sanctuary resolutions even before any new laws are ready to pass. Though the resolutions are considered non-binding, they signal the opposition to the gun control efforts.

Scott Jenkins, the Sheriff of Culpeper County, has also proposed deputizing citizens in his county so as to extend carve-outs intended for law enforcement officers to those civilian firearm owners.