“Tyranny” is the cry of hotheads in the gun camp, warning that lawmakers will enact legislation that amounts to an “assault” on Second Amendment rights and enables mass confiscation of weapons. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Democratic legislators “have declared war on law-abiding gun owners, and they’re tired of it,” Philip Van Cleave, an organizer of next week’s rally, told USA Today.
The hyperbole, amplified by the National Rifle Association, among others, along with expectations of large armed crowds of protesters, prompted Mr. Northam to declare a four-day emergency and ban weapons on the state Capitol grounds, starting Friday. The attempts at intimidation are a reckless overreaction to the legislation likely to emerge from the General Assembly, most of which is similar to laws already in effect elsewhere.
For example, at least 17 other states, including Republican-leaning Indiana, have enacted red-flag rules, which generally allow a judge to authorize local law enforcement to take weapons from individuals deemed a threat to themselves or others. That might save lives in Virginia, where nearly 1,200 people died by suicide in 2017.
That’s not exactly a radical “assault” on gun rights; it enjoys broad bipartisan support in Virginia. So does adding muscle to background checks for firearms purchases in the state, which currently exempt private sales, such as those at gun shows.
Nor are Mr. Northam and Democratic devising an unheard-of stricture by pushing to limit handgun purchases to one a month; that was Virginia law for about two decades, until it was repealed by the legislature’s GOP majority in 2012. Nor would a ban on military-style assault weapons and high-capacity magazines be groundbreaking; seven other states have similar laws.
And most who watched video of the mayhem during the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville will understand the value in allowing localities to ban guns in some public areas, at least temporarily. In that event, militants brandished and fired weapons to intimidate counterprotesters.
None of the bills likely to become law in Virginia imperil the ability of law-abiding gun owners to purchase, possess or use weapons responsibly. (A state Senate bill that would have authorized confiscation of existing assault-style weapons was discarded last week.) They enjoy solid support among Virginians, as demonstrated by a new poll from the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University.
In a state that has suffered horribly in recent years from gun violence — including massacres on the campus of Virginia Tech, in 2007, and, last year, at a municipal building in Virginia Beach — attacks on measured legislation to advance safety are wildly irresponsible. Instead of fanning the rhetorical flames, Republicans such as party chairman Jack Wilson, who claimed Democrats intend to promote a “disarmed, vulnerable, and subservient citizenry,” should be working to discourage violence in Richmond.