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Debate Over Gun Control Will Likely Dominate This Year's General Assembly Session


Democrats won control of the General Assembly after a campaign that prominently featured a debate over gun control. Now, that issue could end up being the defining issue of this year’s General Assembly session.

Gun rights groups from across the country are focusing on Virginia as a test case, a place where they hope to make a final stand against what they view as a violation of their Second Amendment rights. As lawmakers head to the Capitol this week, they’re hearing from people across the country and their own constituents who are angry about proposals for universal background checks, red-flag laws and a ban on assault-style weapons.

Vincent Dory is a member of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, and he compares gun control to modern art. 

“Modern art and gun control are both extremely confusing to look at," Dory said. "It’s extremely pretentious and they are both extremely ridiculous in my opinion.”

That applause is from dozens of firearms enthusiasts who flooded the legislative hearing over the weekend of the Fairfax delegation, which includes the Speaker of the House and Senate majority leader. They turned out in record numbers at legislative hearings across Virginia to make their case. Many of them came armed.

Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeff McKay was heckled when he called for banning guns at the Fairfax County Government Center. 

“Among other items it’s also important that our board be given authority to keep guns out of our rec centers and government centers," McKay said, followed by boos and laughter from the crowd.

The debate will come to a head on Martin Luther King Day later this month, when supporters and opponents of gun control, perhaps numbering in the tens of thousands, are expected in Capitol Square for dueling rallies.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.

Michael Pope is an author and journalist who lives in Old Town Alexandria. He has reported for NPR, the New York Daily News and the Alexandria Gazette Packet. He has a master's degree in American Studies from Florida State University, and he is a former adjunct professor at Tallahassee Community College. He is the author of four books.