The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Va. governor signs gun-control laws, delivering on Democrats’ campaign promises

Thousands of gun-rights advocates from around the country gathered in Richmond in January to protest proposed gun restrictions.
Thousands of gun-rights advocates from around the country gathered in Richmond in January to protest proposed gun restrictions. (Julia Rendleman/The Washington Post)
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RICHMOND — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) has signed five gun-control bills into law and offered amendments on two more passed earlier this year by the General Assembly, delivering the signature legislation that Democrats promised in last year's elections.

Northam said Friday that he had signed bills to limit handgun purchases to one per month; establish universal background checks; give authorities the power to temporarily seize weapons from someone deemed a threat; require owners to report lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours; and increase the penalty for recklessly leaving a loaded gun within reach of a child.

He recommended changes to two more gun-control bills. In one, he sought to clarify an exemption for institutions of higher learning in a law allowing localities to regulate guns in public buildings, parks, recreation centers and during public events.

And Northam recommended expanding the penalty in a law prohibiting people subject to a protective order from possessing a gun.

The General Assembly will take up changes to any bills during a one-day session April 22.

Also Friday, Northam signed the Reproductive Health Protection Act, which loosens Virginia’s restrictions on access to abortion, another issue Democrats ran on last year. The legislation rolls back laws put in place by Republicans that required a woman to get an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before any abortion. The act also does away with hospital-like requirements that prevented some women’s health centers from offering abortions.

Friday’s actions deliver on seven of the eight gun-control measures that Northam endorsed after a mass shooting last year in Virginia Beach, when a gunman killed 12 people at a municipal building.

Republicans who controlled the legislature at the time resisted the measures, and Democrats made passing them a centerpiece of campaigns last year for all 140 seats in the General Assembly. The elections gave Democrats control of the legislature for the first time in a generation, and Democrats made gun laws the top priority coming into this year’s session.

The prospect of tighter restrictions provoked a huge rally in Richmond in January by gun-rights advocates from around the country, but Northam and Democratic lawmakers said they were responding to the will of voters.

“I was proud to work with legislators and advocates on these measures, and I am proud to sign them into law. These common-sense laws will save lives,” Northam said Friday in a written statement.

Republicans continued to push back against the measures.

“To take a victory lap on such a controversial issue at a time when Virginians are buying firearms at a record pace to protect themselves and their families is counterintuitive,” House Republican Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said in a statement.

It went on to say that “it was clear from the moment these bills were introduced that they would impact law-abiding gun owners far more than criminals.”

The one proposal from Northam’s package that failed was a ban on assault weapons. Several Democrats in the Senate opposed that bill, partly because it proved difficult to define the weapons and agree on how to enforce a ban.

Northam has until midnight Saturday to complete action on the more than 1,200 pieces of legislation passed during this year’s legislative session.

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