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VA Senate blocks gun control bill backed by Gov. Northam

Gun rights protestors gather under the Virginia State Capitol for a rally in support of Second Amendment rights on January 20, 2020, in Richmond, Va. (Rob Ostermaier/Virginian Pilot/TNS)
February 05, 2020

Lawmakers in the Virginia Senate blocked a gun control measure favored by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam on Monday, signaling the possibility that some of the new gun control bills may not pass despite the state’s new Democratic majority.

The Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee voted down a bill that would make it a felony for gun owners to “recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm” in a way that endangers a minor. Two Democrats, Sens. Creigh Deeds and Chap Petersen, joined Republicans in opposing the bill, the Associated Press reported.

The bill specifically would have raised the age of allowable firearms access from 14 to 18-years-old, effectively banning minors from individually accessing a firearm.

The bill was one of several gun control measures favored by Northam after the Democratic party won control of both houses of the state legislature in November.

“This bill will keep children safe from loaded, unsecured firearms. Like Gov. Northam’s other common sense gun safety measures, it is something that everyone — including responsible gun owners — should support,” Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky said in a statement endorsing the measure.

Lawmakers who opposed the bill previously warned the measure would punish gun owners who allow their minor children to access their firearms for hunting. Deeds and Peterson also reportedly cited concerns the new law would unfairly punish otherwise law-abiding gun owners.

Another gun control measure has also ran into opposition among Virginia’s lawmakers in recent days. Lawmakers have reportedly opposed an “assault weapons” ban favored by Northam. The ban would have included many popular semi-automatic firearms such as the AR-15.

The newly Democratic legislature has still exercised its new majority in other recent gun control votes. The ban on firearms access for minors was one of seven gun control bills passed through the Virginia House of Delegates in under 90 minutes, last Thursday.

The Virginia Senate had reportedly passed their own versions of several of the House bills before Friday’s rapid gun control session. The two versions of those various measures would need to be reconciled together, after which they would be sent to Northam’s desk to likely be signed and enacted.

Gun control has been a divisive issue in Virginia in recent months. Many gun rights activists have promoted a “Second Amendment sanctuary” movement in response to the potential new gun laws. The sanctuary measures, which have passed in 91 of Virginia’s 95 counties, are non-binding but meant to signal that localities will not enforce new gun control measures passed at the state level.

An estimated 22,000 gun rights activists also recently demonstrated outside Virginia’s capital, in opposition to the state’s gun control policy proposals.