“They are a result of negotiation and what could pass,” said Brian Moran, the state’s secretary of public safety and homeland security. “The other side was vehemently opposed, so that makes me comfortable that we did the right thing.”
Democrats have made gun control the centerpiece of this year’s session after the issue helped them win majorities in both chambers of the General Assembly during this past fall’s elections. The House of Delegates passed all eight measures recommended by Northam (D) after May’s mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal building.
But a handful of Democrats in the Senate tapped the brakes, taking note of a movement that swept the state in which more than 110 counties, cities and towns passed some form of a “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolution in opposition to gun control. Last week, they killed the assault weapons ban and suggested that eight bills was too many.
Kris Brown, president of the national Brady gun control group, said her organization was “heartened” by the panel’s turnaround.
“This is the final stretch for this effort, and it is vital that all members of the General Assembly hold firm in their commitment to enacting the will of the voters,” Brown said in an emailed statement.
Dozens of activists on both sides of the issue packed Monday’s early-morning committee meeting, sometimes shouting in anger as the panel considered the House versions of bills that had been approved and crossed over for Senate review.
On largely party-line votes, the committee advanced measures limiting handgun purchases to one per month; establishing universal background checks for firearm sales; creating a “red flag” law to allow authorities to temporarily seize weapons from someone deemed a threat; and tightening gun restrictions for domestic abusers.
Others were watered down. A bill passed by the House would have allowed localities to ban firearms anywhere within their borders, which is what Northam had recommended. The Senate panel amended the bill to limit that power to municipal buildings, parks and events — echoing restrictions in a similar measure that has already passed the full Senate.
Another House bill would have made it a crime to “recklessly” leave a loaded firearm in reach of a child under 18, raising the age from the current 14. The Senate panel amended the bill to keep the age at 14 but stiffen the penalty.
Finally, the panel advanced a House bill requiring gun owners to report the loss or theft of a firearm within 24 hours. A similar measure failed on the floor of the Senate earlier in the legislative session, making the bill’s passage in the committee a bit of a surprise.
“We intend to get it through the floor this time,” Moran said. He said that while some Democrats in the Senate were initially reluctant to approve so many gun-control bills, they “became comfortable” through extensive negotiations.
That didn’t prevent fireworks in Monday’s hearing. After one speaker told the panel that the proposals would strip rights from law-abiding citizens, Sen. Mark D. Obenshain (R-Rockingham) pointed at the Democratic side of the committee table.
“I think there are a lot of people over there . . . that think you are the bad guy,” he said to the speaker.
“They’re wrong!” someone shouted.
“They absolutely are,” Obenshain said.
After a few more angry comments from Obenshain, Sen. Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax) objected. “The Academy Award for best actor goes to Senator Obenshain,” he said.
The bills will be debated by the full Senate later in the week. Those that pass with different language from the House versions will wind up in conference committees.