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Bill to ban assault weapons in Virginia advances in House

Gun right supporters attended the House committee meeting Feb. 7, 2020 where legislators debated a ban on assault weapons (Virginia Citizens Defense League)
Gun right supporters attended the House committee meeting Feb. 7, 2020 where legislators debated a ban on assault weapons (Virginia Citizens Defense League)
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RICHMOND, Va. (WSET) -- A bill banning assault weapons has passed through the House of Delegates Committee on Public Safety with a vote of 12-9.

HB 961 would ban the sale of certain semi-automatic firearms, including popular AR-15 style rifles. But the bill would not require current owners of assault weapons to turn them in or register them with state police, as some earlier proposals required.

The bill also prohibits a person from carrying a shotgun with a magazine that will hold more than seven rounds of the longest ammunition for which it is chambered in a public place; under existing law, this prohibition applies only in certain localities.

A violation is a Class 6 felony.

“This is a compromise that takes into account folk’s concerns and is still a good bill that will help reduce mass murders in the commonwealth,” said Del. Mark Levine, a Democrat sponsoring the legislation.

"Any legislation that requires Virginians to surrender or destroy their lawfully possessed firearms or standard-issue magazines is tantamount to confiscation and a gross violation of our constitutional rights. Governor Northam and House Democrats are still going after law-abiding citizens with these policies, and Virginians who merely own the most common types of firearms and accessories would be made to be felons and subject to prison," said House Republican Leader Rep. Todd Gilbert. "House Democrats seem to have learned nothing from the public outcry caused by their proposals. A similar Senate version of House Bill 961 is exactly what prompted the 'Second Amendment sanctuary cities' movement across Virginia. These efforts will continue to divide Virginia and without any meaningful public safety outcomes whatsoever."

The bill also prohibits a dealer from selling, renting, trading, or transferring from his inventory an assault firearm to any person.

Heated debates over guns have dominated this year’s legislative session, as Virginia has become ground zero in the nation’s raging debate over gun control and mass shootings.

Gun owners packed the committee room Friday and erupted in protest when the measured passed. Capitol Police cleared the committee room of almost every spectator after the vote.

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.

"The Democrats want a vulnerable and subservient citizenry," said RPV Chairman Jack Wilson. "Most of these General Assembly Democrats can't tell the difference between an 'assault weapon' and a hole in the ground, yet they think they can regulate the Bill of Rights. Virginia won't go down without a fight. Republicans are organized, energized, and inspired to turn out in 2020 to re-elect President Trump and take back the General Assembly in 2021."

The Senate has already spiked legislation banning assault weapons after several Democratic senators indicated they wouldn’t support it.

Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran said a ban on selling assault weapons and high-capacity magazines is needed to help prevent mass shootings, or at least limit the damage mass shooters can inflict. He cited the fact that the shooter in the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007 had a handgun with a high-capacity magazine.

“Assault weapons are not protected by the Second Amendment because they are weapons of war,” Moran said.

Opponents said the measure would make many law-abiding Virginians felons for owning commonly available guns and accessories.

“This bill does not make Virginians safer, what this bill does is make Virginians, law-abiding Virginians, felons overnight,” said D.J. Spiker, a lobbyist for the NRA.

The measure faces high odds of passage, as several moderate Senate Democrats have already indicated they’re unlikely to support an assault weapons ban this year. The full House is expected to vote on the measure in coming days.


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The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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