Last Monday, the Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee sent four gun reform measures to the full state Senate, where on Thursday, three of them passed that Democrat-controlled body. Meanwhile, on Wednesday, Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam ordered a temporary ban on carrying weapons, including firearms, on the state capitol grounds in Richmond from Friday through Tuesday because of “credible intelligence” regarding “threats of violence” when gun rights advocates show up for Virginia’s annual Lobby Monday today to protest the bills as an infringement on their view of the Constitution’s Second Amendment.
Northam noted that some of the extremist rhetoric in the threats has appeared before major clashes in the past, including in Charlottesville in 2017, when a 20-year-old white supremacist crashed his car into a peaceful crowd protesting a Unite the Right Rally, killing Heather Heyer, and injuring 19 others.
The gun-rights group organizing today’s action that far right-wingers characterize as a “Boogaloo”—the Virginia Citizens Defense League—reportedly participated peacefully in Lobby Day for years. But analysts who monitor such groups say the league could be joined by militias and hate groups who might go a lot further than lobbying. My colleague David Neiwert offers insight into what these guys are all about.
A judge upheld the temporary gun ban Thursday afternoon. In a statement, Northam said: “This is the right decision. These threats are real—as evidenced by reports of neo-Nazis arrested this morning after discussing plans to head to Richmond with firearms.”
The three Senate-passed bills are expected to pass the House of Delegates, where Democrats are also in the majority. If these become law, they will impose reforms that have wide support across the nation and have been passed in several other states. They are widely called “common-sense reforms.” That such modest bills have aroused threats of violence demonstrates just how extremist some gun rights advocates are.
Said Democratic Caucus Chair Mamie Locke after the bills passed: “Today we celebrate yet another milestone in making Virginia a safer place. Common-sense gun safety measures such as universal background checks, one handgun a month, and giving localities the authority to protect their residents are all simple measures that will save the lives of many Virginians. The safety and lives of all Virginians are not and should not be a partisan issue.”
Here are the bills the Virginia Senate passed:
Senate Bill 35 forbids localities from passing firearm-related ordinances that aren’t specifically authorized by state statute. More than 100 cities and counties in Virginia have passed “Second Amendment sanctuary” ordinances that authorize local authorities not to enforce any new state gun reforms. Scott H. Jenkins, the sheriff of Culpeper County, has said he will “deputize” thousands of concealed-weapons permit-holders so they can get around any new laws. In Tazewell County, officials are thinking about creating a county “militia” that would accomplish the same thing. The state attorney general has issued an opinion saying such local nullification is not allowed.
Senate Bill 69 prohibits any person who isn’t a federally licensed firearm dealer from buying more than one handgun in any 30-day period. The bill includes numerous exceptions, including anyone who holds a valid Virginia concealed handgun permit. Virginia previously passed a one-gun-per-month law in 1993, but repealed it in 2012. Maryland, New Jersey, California, the District of Columbia, and New York City had one handgun-a-month laws at the time. But in 2015, a federal appeals court overturned the D.C. law. In October 2019, California’s Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a bill extending the state’s one-handgun-a-month limitation to rifles and shotguns.
Senate Bill 70 would require background checks for all sales or other transfers of firearms with exemptions for immediate family members and other narrowly drawn exceptions. Currently, federal law only requires background checks when a firearm is bought from a licensed dealer, not from private individuals. Twelve states and the District of Columbia require background checks for all gun purchases, two others require it for handguns only, and nine others have some kind of background check requirement stricter than federal law. Various polls show that around 90% of Americans support universal background checks.
Easily the most controversial Virginia gun-reform proposal, Senate Bill 16, was axed by the Judiciary Committee after its sponsor decided to pull it. It would have banned importing, selling, transferring, manufacturing, purchasing, possessing, or transporting an assault firearm. It would also bar carrying a shotgun magazine holding more than seven rounds of ammunition, and ban importing or selling any firearm magazine meant to hold more than 10 rounds. Eight states and the District of Columbia have banned the sale and possession of assault weapons except those that were owned before a certain date, which varies from state to state.