RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia lawmakers appear unlikely to pass any notable new gun laws this legislative session, but are almost certain to campaign heavily on failed gun legislation later this year.
A vendor looks on as a customer handles a scoped rifle at the Sunday, March 25 gun show. A majority of vendors, including the one pictured, owned retail stores around Virginia and traveled to the Richmond show with a smaller selection to sell. (Photo by Erin Edgerton)
Republicans who control the General Assembly have dispatched gun-control bills backed by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, who is all but certain to veto any gun-rights bills that pass out of the legislature.
Guns are a perennial issue both at the legislature and on the campaign trail in this swing state that's home to the National Rifle Association's headquarters and site of one of the country's deadliest mass shootings, at Virginia Tech in 2007.
Compromise on guns is rare in Virginia, but not unheard of. Democrats and Republicans backed a package of gun bills three years ago to strengthen some gun control measures while expanding concealed carry rights.
This year though, with an important election looming, there's little common ground. The Northam administration and GOP officials have discussed a potential deal on a so-called "red flag" measure to take away guns temporarily from people who are considered dangerous, but those talks have gone nowhere.
"Unfortunately, there hasn't been the receptivity you'd expect," said Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran, who noted that President Donald Trump and Republicans in other states have supported the measure.
Gun-rights advocates said the proposed legislation would infringe on the Second Amendment and does nothing to improve public safety.
"It's one of the more stupid bills out there," said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
All 140 legislative seats will be up for election later this year and Democrats are emboldened by the success they've had in two straight elections cycles, driven in large part by an anti-Trump wave. Republicans hold a slim majority in both chambers of the General Assembly.
On Monday, top Democrats headlined a gun-control rally at the Capitol where they urged supporters to make guns a key issue in this year's elections.
"If we can't change people's minds, we need to change their seats," Northam said. "We will see you out here next year and we will have the majority in the House and the Senate and we will finally get things done."
Gun-rights advocates held a rally a few hours earlier where they also spoke about the upcoming elections.
"We're going to try and make sure that gun owners are as motivated as possible," Van Cleave said.