Gun Control is Passing, so What About the Assault Weapons Ban?

Feb 6, 2020

 

Demonstrators stand outside a security zone before a pro-gun rally, Monday, Jan. 20, 2020, in Richmond, Va.
Credit Julio Cortez / AP

 

While most gun control measures have already zoomed through Virginia’s legislative process this session, a proposed ban on assault-style firearms hasn’t even taken its first step.


At a gun shop and pawn store in Hopewell, owner Alec Shull hopes it stays that way.   

He waves at a wall full of long rifles

“Everything in here will fall under that,” he says. “Except for a couple of guns I have over here.” 

The proposal would limit magazines in most guns to 10 rounds, plus it would ban semi-automatic rifles, pistols and shotguns if they’re accessorized with things like pistol grips, telescoping stocks, silencers, or flash suppressors. 

“Very, very broad,” Shull says. “What some of these people want to go out and do - have a little bit of fun, protect themselves. Whatever it may be. It takes all of that away from ‘them.”

The bill lets people who already have those weapons keep them, but eventually they would have to be registered and have a permit. Shull says he knows that worries gun owners, because in recent months business has almost doubled.

“Everybody panicked. Nobody wanted their guns taken away. I have liberals coming in. I have conservatives coming in. I have every idiot there is out on the street right now coming in to look at guns,” he says. 

A spokeswoman for the Governor says the measure does not involve confiscating guns, and is about keeping Virginians safe from “highly lethal weapons of war.” 

Speaking after a recent meeting of the House Firearms sub-committee, Lori Haas of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, says assault weapons have no place in Virginia. 

“They’re people killers. They were designed to kill as many people in as short amount of time as possible. They’re unacceptable in the hands of civilians.” 

Claire Boine researches gun policy at Boston University and testified this summer before the Virginia Crime Commission. She says the limited research available shows assault rifle bans do not reduce homicide and suicide rates - which account for the vast majority of gun deaths. 

“However when the goal of an assault weapon ban is to reduce mass shootings themselves and not overall homicides, there is some mixed evidence, there is some evidence, that suggests that it could,” Boine says.  

Boine says other gun control policies, that target who can access weapons rather than what type of weapons they can get, are more effective in reducing gun deaths. They include policies like universal background checks, red flag laws, and keeping guns away from people with a violent background. 

Many of those measures are well on their way to becoming law in Virginia.

But talk to gun rights activists and it’s still the assault weapons ban that’s top of mind. 

Along with more than 20,000 others, Travis Addington of Lee County came to the capitol last month for the gun rights lobby day. While Addington supports universal background checks... he doesn’t support banning certain types of weapons.  

“I do agree with some checks, I do not agree with the banning of automatic weapons or assault weapons of magazines carrying over a certain amount of bullets,” Addington says. “I think that is unjust and unfair.” 

Adam Sims from Manassas agrees. He was at the rally with his AR-15.

“I want the best advantage possible for my self defense and my family's defense,” Sims says. “Everybody else had them out today so you’ve got to show support for everybody out here fighting for em.”

Despite the -- quite literal -- show of force, Democratic leaders are still working behind the scenes to come up with a ban they hope can pass. It’s final chance to be heard in committee before the looming crossover deadline is this Friday.

 

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