A package of gun-control measures that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe has made a centerpiece of his legislative agenda this year died Monday morning in a state Senate committee.
McAuliffe (D) announced in December that he would push for a renewal of the state’s one-a-month limit on handgun purchases, a requirement that buyers at gun shows undergo background checks, a ban on anyone subject to a protection-from-abuse order from having a gun and the revoking of concealed-handgun permits for parents who are behind on child-support payments.
In his State of the Commonwealth address this month, the governor declared that “we can no longer stand by as our fellow Virginians are lost to preventable and senseless acts of gun violence.”
In a statement Monday after the bills died, McAuliffe said: “I am disappointed to see these common-sense measures to keep Virginians safe fall to special interest politics. Too many families in Virginia and across the nation have lost loved ones to gun crimes that these proposals could help prevent.”
A recent Roanoke College poll found that Virginians widely support universal background checks, including at gun shows. However, residents were evenly split on reinstatement of the one-handgun-a-month limit.
The Republicans who control the legislature have dismissed the governor’s proposals as political posturing designed to pander to a liberal Democratic base.
When Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran rose to testify in support of several bills, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) commented that the McAuliffe Cabinet member was probably there “for some other unarticulated reasons.”
A McAuliffe-backed bill that would ban firearm possession for people convicted of misdemeanors related to domestic violence was initially said to have passed during the Monday morning committee hearing. Several hours later, however, it was reported as failing on the Senate legislative Web site.
Norment said he misspoke when he originally said it had passed and thought the bill had failed. Senate Democrats said in a statement that Norment, Sen. Jill Holtzman Vogel (R-Fauquier) and Sen. Ryan T. McDougle (R-Hanover) appeared to have changed their votes. Vogel and McDougle said they did not change their votes.
“These kind of backroom shenanigans are what destroy Virginians’ faith in their government,” said Lori Haas, director of Virginians for Responsible Gun Laws. Senators are allowed to change their votes after a committee hearing but not after the outcome of the vote. A similar bill passed the Senate with bipartisan support in 2014 but failed in the House.
In recent years, measures loosening gun restrictions have fared better in the legislature than those tightening them, despite a surge in gun-control advocacy following the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007. In 2012, Virginia Gov. Robert F. McDonnell (R) signed the repeal of the one-handgun-a-month ban that was put into effect in 1993.
Two gun rights bills passed out of the Senate committee Monday — one allowing guns on school property outside of school hours and one overriding local ordinances against carrying loaded shotguns or rifles. A measure allowing for a lifetime concealed-handgun permit rather than one lasting five years was sent to the finance committee.
Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) put forward his own gun control measure not included in the governor’s proposals that would have made it a misdemeanor to allow a child 4 years old or younger to use a firearm.
“I hope we can all agree that toddlers . . . should not be allowed to play with a gun,” he said. A lobbyist for the National Rifle Association countered that the bill “would impose an arbitrary minimum age at which a person would be allowed to receive firearms training.”
The bill failed.