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VA Gov. Northam signs ‘red flag’ gun confiscation bill and more

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)
April 13, 2020

On Friday, Democratic Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a series of new gun laws into effect, including an extreme risk protective order, or “red flag law,” a handgun purchase limit and others.

Northam announced his decision to sign eight bills, which describe five new laws. Those laws include the “red flag” gun confiscation, as well as laws limiting handgun purchases to one per month, expanded background checks, requiring owners to report missing or stolen firearms within 48 hours and harsher penalties for parents of children who access firearms while unsupervised.

The background check bill and handgun purchase limit bill passed on the final day of Virginia’s legislative session, on March 7. Northam waited more than a month after the session ended to sign the bills into law. In a Friday tweet, he announced the new laws would take effect on July 1.

Northam sent back another four bills, with requests for amendments. Those four bills described two more potential gun laws.

One bill would ban the subjects of court protective orders from possessing firearms, require them to certify the surrender of their firearms to a court within 24 hours of receiving a protective order, and bars them from obtaining new firearms. Northam sent back the bills at the request of Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance, which asked that the bills be strengthened to impose contempt of court punishments if the subject of the protective order does not comply.

Another bill returned for amendment would allow localities to create additional gun regulations not already imposed at the state level. Northam sent back that bill with a request for an amendment to clarify language regarding institutions of higher education.

The series of new gun bills came months after Democrats won majorities in both houses of Virginia’s state legislature, in November of 2019. Lawmakers soon began proposing dozens of new gun laws in the state, including an “assault weapons” ban, along with a magazine capacity limit of 12 rounds.

The campaign for new gun laws was met with a wide-spread grassroots gun rights movement to defeat the new laws. 91 of Virginia’s 95 counties, along with several more cities and towns declared themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” and said they would not prioritize the enforcement of new gun laws passed by the state.

In January, thousands of gun rights activists marched on Virginia’s capital in Richmond and demonstrated in opposition to the proposed laws.

In February, lawmakers in Virginia’s Senate narrowly voted to stop a bill calling for the “assault weapons” and magazine capacity bans and instead elected to table the issue for another year. Lawmakers instead deferred in the meantime to Virginia’s State Crime Commission for further study on the proposed bans.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League, was one major group that organized the opposition to Virginia’s new gun laws. ABC 13 News reported Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, suggested the lobbying efforts of many Virginia gun rights activists helped weaken some of the gun control legislation that did pass.

“While we still don’t like them, they’re not as bad as they once were,” Van Cleave said.

Van Cleave also signaled plans to take legal action against the new laws. He said, “Nothing (Northam’s) doing today is necessarily permanent.”

Proponents of the new gun control measures have signaled their own plans to replicate Virginia’s rapid gun control push in other states.  John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety said his group has amassed funding to bring similar gun control laws to political battleground states like Arizona, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania.