Virginia legislature advances bill banning assault weapons

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VIRGINIA — A bill that would ban assault or military-style weapons in Virginia has passed out of committee and will now be considered by the full Democratic-led House of Delegates.

The measure, HB 961, looks to ban assault weapons — defined as semi-automatic rifles and pistols — high-capacity magazines (more than 12 rounds), trigger activators that are designed to make weapons fire more rapidly, and silencers. The measure also looks to prevent the possession, sale, purchase and restrict the transfer of assault weapons.

It is part of a package of eight gun violence prevention measures introduced by Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, in a July 2019 special session of the Virginia Assembly following a mass shooting in Virginia Beach. At the time, the Republican-led House abruptly adjourned the session without action, but the initiatives gained new life in November after Democrats took control of both chambers of Virginia’s legislature.

“Virginians are demanding real action to combat gun violence — today, legislators proved they are listening. I’m grateful to my colleagues in the House of Delegates for passing our commonsense gun safety legislation. Make no mistake: these measures will save lives,” Northam previously told CNN.

The bill passed the public safety committee in a party-line vote of 12 Democrats to nine Republicans, but not before opposition to the measure was voiced by pro-gun Virginia residents and groups.

“We strongly oppose this bill. This bill would not make Virginians safer. What this bill does is make law-abiding Virginians felons overnight,” D.J. Spiker, the National Rifle Association’s Virginia state legislative director, said at the hearing.

Philip Van Cleave, the President of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a pro-gun group that has been leading the charge on the “Second Amendment sanctuary” movement, has vowed to fight the Democrats’ legislation in court.

Gun safety advocates, however, hailed the advancement of the bill as a “needed step towards banning weapons of war” in the state.

“These weapons — assault-style semi-automatic rifles and pistols, along with high capacity magazines — have no place on our streets,” Vice President of Policy at the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence Christian Heyne said at the hearing.

“The bottom line is this: no civilians should have to ever intervene to prevent their fellow human beings from being massacred while out for a movie, dancing, checking out a favorite band, worshipping, getting an education, or just walking down a crowded street,” Heyne added.

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