As a Virginia resident and voter, I can personally share my disappointment in this decision, especially because voters such as myself went to the polls and chose candidates who ran on common-sense gun-safety laws exactly like this one.
We know that the mass shooting in Virginia Beach last year was made more deadly by the presence of large-capacity magazines, allowing the gunman to continue a “long gun battle” with law enforcement.
We know that assault weapons are uniquely deadly. They are designed with characteristics similar to military-grade assault weapons, maximizing operability and lethality. These weapons are intended to kill. An AR-15-type bullet exits its barrel almost three times faster than a 9mm bullet from a handgun. The weapons’ rapid rate of fire and high muzzle velocity allow the shooter to fire dozens of gunshots without needing to reload.
As a trauma surgeon who treated victims after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., shared:
“I was looking at a CT scan of one of the mass-shooting victims from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. . . . The organ looked like an overripe melon smashed by a sledgehammer, and was bleeding extensively.”
This deadly cocktail — design features to maximize shots fired and maneuverability coupled with speed that inflicts damage far beyond an “ordinary” bullet — makes these the weapon of choice for mass shootings. It is why they are a common thread among our nation’s deadliest and most high-profile mass shootings: in Newtown, Conn., Las Vegas, Orlando, Aurora, Colo., El Paso.
The policies in the bill that the Senate committee deferred voting on will make our communities safer. HB 961 would ban the sale, purchase, manufacture and most transfers of assault-style weapons in Virginia. It would likewise ban the sale, purchase, transfer, manufacture or possession of large-capacity magazines and trigger activators, such as bump stocks.
For those who believe we do not need such policies, I remind them that we have already seen these weapons’ capacity for carnage in Virginia Beach. These weapons are readily available. Just this month, I found 29 pages of assault-style weapons for sale near my home in Arlington County on an online gun marketplace. I could have bought these weapons that same day via a private sale, meaning I, as the buyer, would not be subject to a background check or other safeguard. This is completely legal. It shouldn’t be.
All it takes is for one buyer to use those weapons to turn our communities into a war zone.
For those who charge that these bans do not work, the facts show otherwise. They work.
Reporting in The Post showed that when the federal assault-weapons ban was in effect, the number of guns with large-capacity magazines recovered by Virginia State Police steadily declined. By 2004, when the ban expired, 9 percent of guns recovered included a large-capacity magazine. After its reversal, the rate began climbing again, up to 20 percent in 2010.
We need this bill. And, we will continue to work to ensure it becomes law.
Very often, moments of trial or setbacks are where character is revealed. They can be the most consequential.
For our movement, there have been many setbacks, and history and experience tell us that there will be many more. In Virginia, we have worked for a generation to bring common-sense gun laws to the commonwealth. Voters, including me, went to the polls in November and demanded it.
It’s why we’ve made so much progress. Though this vote is a setback, the General Assembly still has the opportunity to pass the remainder of the “Governor’s Package,” seven other common-sense gun-safety bills, this legislative session. We cannot waver; the General Assembly must pass these all of bills and send them to Gov. Ralph Northam (D) for his signature.
We are heartened by the progress we have made in just one year, including the passage of these bills. But, in the months ahead, we will not forget that we still have the opportunity to ban weapons of war in our commonwealth next year.
We’ll ensure that our elected officials do not forget, either.