Virginia Senate blocks another Northam-backed gun bill

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ROANOKE, Va. (AP/WDBJ7) — UPDATE (Feb. 3):

The Virginia Senate blocked one of Gov. Ralph Northam's top gun-control bills Monday, adding to the list of measures the Democratic governor supports that may not pass the legislature.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted against a bill that would make it a felony to “recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm” in a way that endangers a minor.

It's one of eight gun-related proposals that Northam has urged lawmakers to adopt. Virginia has become ground zero in the nation's raging debate over gun control and mass shootings as a new Democratic majority seeks to enact strict new limits. Last month, tens of thousands of guns-rights activists from around the country flooded the Capitol and surrounding area in protest, some donning tactical gear and carrying military rifles.

Two moderate Democrats — Sens. Creigh Deeds and Chap Petersen — joined with Republicans to defeat the bill Monday over concerns that law-abiding gun owners could be unfairly punished.

A similar measure has already passed the House, and the legislation could still pass the Senate later during this year's legislative session.

“This bill will keep children safe from loaded, unsecured firearms. Like Gov. Northam's other commonsense gun safety measures, it is something that everyone -- including responsible gun owners -- should support," said Northam's spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky.

Lawmakers have already signaled that at least one other Northam-backed gun-control bill — a ban on so-called assault weapons like the popular AR-15-syle rifles — may not pass.

Both chambers have passed some of Northam's proposed gun control measures, and will hash out any differences between their respective versions in coming weeks. Those include limiting handgun purchases to once a month; universal background checks on gun purchases; and a red flag bill that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from anyone deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.

Guns were a key topic of last year's legislative elections — particularly after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach claimed a dozen lives — and gun-control groups heavily funded Democratic candidates. Democrats won full control of the legislature for the first time in a generation.

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Jan. 31

The debate this week in the House of Delegates was passionate and predictable, with seven of the eight measures Governor Northam proposed before the special session last summer winning approval in the House of Delegates.

"I don't think we're surprised," said Mitchell Tyler, co-owner of SafeSide Tactical. "I think we sort of knew what was dyed in the wool as far as how the votes were going to go."

Tyler said the level of concern among his customers remains high.

The legislation will now go to the Senate for a vote, which has already passed its version of some of the measures but has shown signs that others may not survive. Both chambers are controlled by Democrats, but the Senate is the more conservative of the two chambers on gun issues.

Among the bills that cleared the House was legislation creating an Extreme Risk Protective Order, right at the top of their list.

"That red flag law is what is giving legal gun owners the most heartburn, I guess, because we're not sure about the process," Tyler said. "And as these types of laws have been coming up in other states, and have been challenged in other states, the real concern is consistency."

Catherine Koebel is active in the Blue Ridge Coalition Against Gun Violence.

"I think the House is doing a great job. We expect all eight of these bills out of the House eventually," Koebel said. "We expect the Senate to do their job and do the same thing."

She said she believes the gun legislation is long overdue. And she said her allies understand the fight isn't over.

"We've seen good things so far, but our side is watching very closely," she told WDBJ7. "We are not kicking back."

Virginia has become ground zero in the nation’s raging debate over gun control and mass shootings as a new Democratic majority has pledged to put strict new limits in place.

“For too many years this body has put the convenience of gun owners above all else,” said Democratic Del. Patrick Hope.

The new majority’s agenda has spark ed an immense backlash. Last week, tens of thousands of guns-rights activists from around the country flooded the Capitol and surrounding area in protest, some donning tactical gear and military rifles.

Republicans said Democrats are rushing legislation without thinking through unintended consequences, and law-abiding gun owners will be unfairly penalized.

“Once you lose one freedom, you tend to lose your other freedoms,” said Republican Del. John McGuire.

Both chambers will hash out any differences between their respective gun-control measures in coming weeks. The proposed bills include limiting handgun purchases to once a month; universal background checks on gun purchases; and a red flag bill that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from anyone deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.

But other measures passed by the House and pushed by Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, have not passed the Senate and may not be able to secure a majority vote there. Those include a bill that would make it a felony to “recklessly leave a loaded, unsecured firearm” in a way that endangers children and a bill requiring gun owners to report any firearms that are lost or stolen.

Democratic Sen. John Edwards, head of the powerful Senate Judiciary Committee, said he wasn’t sure if those bills would pass the Senate, or if he supports them himself.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Several Senate Democrats have already said they are unlikely to back the governor’s ban on so-called assault weapons, such as the popular AR-15-style rifles — a key part of Northam’s gun-control package. The House version of the bill has also not advanced.

The assault weapons legislation has drawn the fiercest pushback, as gun-rights advocates accuse Democrats of wanting to confiscate such rifles from current gun owners. Northam has said he has no interest in doing so.

An estimated 8 million AR-style guns have been sold since they were introduced to the public in the 1960s. The weapons are known as easy to use, easy to clean and easy to modify with a variety of scopes, stocks and rails.

Guns were a key topic of last year’s legislative elections — particularly after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach claimed a dozen lives — and gun-control groups heavily funded Democratic candidates.

Gun owners, meanwhile, have descended on local government offices to demand they establish sanctuaries for gun rights. More than 100 counties, cities and towns have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries and vowed to oppose any new “unconstitutional restrictions” on guns.