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Advocates wonder why state Democrats didn't pass an assault weapons ban when they were in power

CCalifornia Assault Weapons
Rich Pedroncelli
FILE - In this Oct. 3, 2013, file photo, a custom-made semi-automatic hunting rifle with a high-capacity detachable magazine is displayed.

When Democrats were in control of the General Assembly, they passed a number of measures designed to reduce gun violence. But, one part of the agenda they were unable to accomplish was banning assault weapons.

Assault-style weapons are often the firearm of choice for mass shooters, including the two recent ones at a New York grocery store and a Texas elementary school. That's why advocates for preventing gun violence in Virginia are so disappointed that Democrats were unable to ban assault weapons when Ralph Northam was in the Executive Mansion and they had complete control over the General Assembly.

Former Delegate Mark Levine introduced an assault weapons ban that made it out of the House but was scuttled in the Senate.

"I took a lot of risk," Levine says. "And I was disappointed that a lot of people didn't have the courage to do the right thing."

Four Senate Democrats on the Judiciary Committee voted to send the bill to the Crime Commission, which never took it up. The following year, nobody introduced a bill on banning assault weapons and the idea quietly faded away.

Lori Haas is advocacy manager for the Center for Gun Violence Solutions, and she says she’s hopeful that lawmakers will see the utility in banning what she calls weapons of war.

"Politics on all these issues change and evolve over time," Haas explains. "Perhaps there's an appetite in the Senate to do this now."

The debate over banning assault weapons in Virginia may end up being a campaign issue. But, the 40 members of the Virginia state Senate won’t be on the ballot until November of 2023.

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.