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Despite Democratic Majorities, A Ban on Assault-Style Weapons Isn't Headed to Northam's Desk

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Lawmakers are sending the governor several bills aimed at preventing gun violence. But there's one bill they're not sending him.

Democrats have been able to require universal background checks and ban guns from polling places. But there's one part of the gun-violence prevention agenda they have not been able to accomplish -- legislation limiting access to assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, deadly equipment that has been used to commit some of the worst mass shootings in American history.

"I don't think it has enough votes to pass," says Delegate Mark Levine, a Democrat from Alexandria. He had a bill on assault-style weapons that passed the House last year, but it did not make it out of the Senate, where he says it was misunderstood.

"It's really a high-capacity magazine ban more than it's an assault weapons ban since we're grandfathering in the assault weapons," he explains. "It's not a ban on possession. It's a ban on sales."

Levine didn't even try to introduce a bill on assault-style weapons this year, when the abbreviated session limited the number of bills lawmakers could introduce.

Lori Haas at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence says the lack of action is disappointing.

"Polling as recent as October showed overwhelming support to do something about these people-killers," Haas says. "It's a conundrum why the House and Senate didn't want to take this up."

The next election for the state Senate isn't until 2023, so any potential reform on assault-style weapons would probably have to wait until then unless there are some Senate Democrats who change their position.

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.