The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted 9-6 along party lines to approve a bill that would make it a misdemeanor to possess or sell assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines in Virginia. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Charlottesville, is based on the federal assault weapons ban that expired in 2004. The bill is one of several gun control measures that Democrats are pushing in the General Assembly this year.
What are assault-style weapons?
Assault-style weapons are firearms that have certain features that make them more lethal and suitable for mass shootings. These features include detachable magazines, pistol grips, folding or telescoping stocks, barrel shrouds, and flash suppressors. The bill would ban more than 60 types of rifles and handguns, including AR-15s, AK-47s, UZIs, and similar weapons. The bill would also ban magazines that can hold more than 12 rounds of ammunition.
Why do some people want to ban them?
Supporters of the bill argue that assault-style weapons have no legitimate purpose for self-defense, hunting, or sport shooting. They say that these weapons are designed for killing large numbers of people in a short time, and that they pose a threat to public safety and law enforcement. They cite examples of mass shootings where assailants used assault-style weapons, such as the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting in 2012, the Pulse nightclub shooting in 2016, and the Las Vegas shooting in 2017.
Sen. Deeds, the bill’s sponsor, said that the bill is constitutional and that the U.S. Supreme Court has allowed states to enact assault weapons bans. He said that the bill would not affect the rights of law-abiding gun owners who have other types of firearms.
Why do some people oppose them?
Opponents of the bill contend that assault-style weapons are common and popular among gun owners, and that banning them would infringe on their Second Amendment rights. They say that these weapons are not inherently more dangerous than other firearms, and that the term “assault weapon” is vague and arbitrary. They also question the effectiveness of the bill in preventing crime and violence, and point out that most gun deaths in Virginia are caused by handguns, not rifles.
Representatives of several gun-rights advocacy groups, such as the Virginia Citizens Defense League, the National Rifle Association, and the National Shooting Sports Foundation, testified against the bill. They argued that the bill would hurt the gun industry and the economy, and that it would create a black market for banned weapons. They also warned that the bill could face legal challenges, as a federal judge in California recently struck down a similar ban as unconstitutional.
What are the next steps for the bill?
The bill will now go to the Senate Finance and Appropriations Committee for approval. If it passes, it will then go to the full Senate for a vote. An identical bill has already passed the House Public Safety Committee and is awaiting a vote in the House Appropriations Committee. If both chambers pass the bill, it will then go to Gov. Ralph Northam, who has expressed his support for gun control measures. The bill is expected to face strong opposition from Republicans and some moderate Democrats in the Senate, where Democrats have a slim 21-19 majority.