THE DEFEAT by Virginia lawmakers of a bill that would have banned the sale of assault-style weapons is disappointing. But the setback cannot obscure the significant, indeed historic, gun-control reform on its way to becoming law in Virginia. The changes will make the commonwealth safer.

Legislation championed by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) that would have banned the sale or transfer of certain assault-style weapons and made it illegal to possess silencers and magazines holding more than 12 rounds was killed in a Senate committee Monday. Four Democrats on the 15-member Senate Judiciary Committee joined six Republicans in voting to send the proposal to the Virginia State Crime Commission for further study, arguing there were a lot of questions and ambiguities that needed to be worked out. “Bunch of wimps,” said Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), while the president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, which had whipped up opposition to the measure, proclaimed victory.

It remains to be seen whether the referral to the state crime commission is a delaying tactic to kill the bill, which had passed the House, or a sincere effort to work out the admittedly complicated issues of which specific models should be outlawed. Mr. Northam vowed to press the issue again next year. The crime commission, reconstituted with more Democratic members, hopefully will make a priority of getting these weapons of war off the streets.

The assault weapons ban seemed to attract the most attention during the Virginia legislative session, but gun-control advocates had not made it their priority. Certainly they supported a ban on assault weapons, similar to one that saved lives when it was in effect on a federal level from 1994 to 2004. But volunteers from Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense, for example, spent more energy lobbying for an expansion of background checks and adoption of legislation that would allow judges to order people to turn in their guns if they are deemed after a hearing to be a threat to themselves or others. Those measures — along with reimposition of a one-per-month limit on handgun purchases, and power for cities and towns to establish their own gun ordinances — appear headed for final approval from the House and Senate. Mr. Northam has said he will sign them into law.

That Virginia, home to the National Rifle Association, would advance such an ambitious reform agenda is testament to the strength of the grass-roots movement for gun control. It suggests that a ban on assault-style weapons will be in place before too long, in Virginia and maybe beyond.

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