Republicans from rural areas said the actions betrayed their way of life and the wishes of thousands of armed gun rights protesters who descended on Richmond last week. Invoking the heritage of the American Revolution and a society “forged from wilderness,” Del. Les Adams (R-Pittsylvania) warned that the bills “are strongly resented by our people.”
But Democrats noted that voters gave them a 55-45 majority in the House in the November elections, partly on the promise of gun control. They used that muscle to push the votes through in less time than it took Republicans to adjourn last summer’s 90-minute special session on gun control, where no votes were taken.
“For too many years this body has put the convenience of gun owners above all else,” Del. Patrick Hope (D-Arlington) said in a floor speech. “Families are hurting. People are sick and tired of being sick and tired.”
The state Senate has also passed versions of five of the bills, meaning the chambers are likely to send measures to Northam (D) for his signature in the coming weeks.
Other bills are still alive in committees, though a proposed ban on assault weapons has hit snags in both the House and Senate, as lawmakers wrestle with how to define which guns would qualify and how the state would implement a ban. That was the lone measure from the governor’s agenda that did not get to the House floor Thursday.
On party-line votes, the House approved bills that would:
●Enact universal background checks on private gun sales.
●Require an owner to report the loss or theft of a firearm within 24 hours.
●Give local governments the authority to enact gun laws of their own, such as banning weapons in public buildings.
●Create a “red flag” law, or extreme risk protective order, under which authorities can temporarily seize firearms from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others.
●Limit handgun purchases to one per month, a policy that had been in effect in Virginia until 2012.
●Tighten the law prohibiting access to firearms for someone subject to a protective order.
●Make it a felony to “recklessly” leave a firearm within reach of anyone age 18 or younger, up from the current age of 14.
Those were all part of a package of measures Northam called for last year in the wake of a May 31 shooting in which a gunman killed 12 people at a Virginia Beach municipal building.
Republicans on Thursday renewed their charge that Democrats were capitalizing on the tragedy for political purposes. Adams, in a speech that drew a standing ovation from fellow Republicans, urged lawmakers to “reject the cynical politics that would tell us to never let a good crisis go to waste.”
Other GOP lawmakers questioned whether Democrats understood the impact of the bills. Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), the House minority leader, said the measure making it a felony to recklessly leave a loaded weapon near someone under 18 would outlaw the tradition of youth hunting.
“All those hunting scenarios that are so common in Virginia are going to be illegal now,” Gilbert said. “People putting forth this legislation may not understand what it does.”
But Del. Marcus B. Simon (D-Fairfax) pointed out that the bill specifies that access to the weapon must be “reckless,” and that such a law already exists for people under 14. So it would not, he said, affect youth hunting.
“Don’t tell us we don’t know how to read bills,” Simon snapped.
Democrats raised their own questions about confusion when Del. Nick Rush (R-Montgomery) said the bill allowing localities to pass gun-violence-prevention measures would be an imposition on the more than 100 counties, cities and towns that have passed resolutions asking not to have their Second Amendment rights trampled.
“They asked to be left out of this debate, to be left alone,” Rush said.
The bill’s sponsor, Del. Marcia S. “Cia” Price (D-Newport News), said that was no problem.
The measure “is permissive,” she said. “It would allow for any locality to not enact ordinances related to firearms.”