A key House committee passed an assault weapons ban this morning. It’s a big step for a controversial piece of legislation, the most sweeping in Governor Ralph Northam’s gun control package.
A crowd of gun rights supporters turned out for the contentious meeting. After the party line vote, the packed room was quickly pushed out by police.
“Freedom of assembly!” shouted one man, “You go lapdog - run us out!” shouted someone else to a capitol police officer.
Outside in the hallway, Jason and Justin Hazelwood, from outside Danville, called the ban tyranny.
“If this actually keeps going and keeps going they’re really going to find out what the Second Amendment is for,” Jason Hazelwood said, adding he thinks there will be a “revolution”
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“If they want to make us all felons they better build a lot more jails, and I don’t intend to surrender anything that I bought and paid for,” chimed in Justin Hazelwood.
But the measure doesn’t actually require people who already own the weapons to give them up. Instead it bans the future sale of them. It also bans high-capacity magazines, bumping the number up to 12 from the initially proposed ten.
There are certain exceptions for transferring weapons between family members, and for certain antique weapons.
An earlier version of the bill did require gun owners to register their assault weapons, but that’s been eliminated. Democratic Delegate Mark Levine calls it a compromise.
“No one is a felon over this, people can keep their guns,” said Levine after the vote.
The bill still has to pass the full House -- but the bigger hurdle may be in the Senate, where similar legislation was struck early in the session.
If it does pass the Governor will almost certainly sign it. In a statement, his spokeswoman says “this bill will save lives…the Governor is glad to see it advance.”
There is limited research available on the efficacy of assault rifle bans. The mixed evidence suggests the bans could reduce mass shootings, but do not reduce overall homicide or suicide rates -- which account for the vast majority of gun deaths.
The bill’s sponsor made clear in committee Friday that the goal of the legislation was to reduce mass shootings.
At the same committee meeting, lawmakers also pushed through a piece of legislation that would prohibit convicted domestic abusers from having a firearm. Legislation like that -- that keeps guns out of the hands of individuals with a violent criminal record -- is shown to be one of the most effective measures lawmakers can take in reducing gun homicides.