Local 2nd Amendment resolutions helped shelve Virginia governor’s assault weapons ban, political expert says

Virginia Politics

PORTSMOUTH, Va. (WAVY) — While they may have lacked legal muscle, a political scientist says the political muscle of the “2nd Amendment Sanctuary” movement in Virginia was seen as lawmakers shelved an assault weapons ban pushed by the governor.

Virginia’s Senate Judiciary Committee voted Monday to send HB961 to the crime commission for a study until the 2021 legislative session. The 10-5 vote to continue to the bill drew applause from gun rights supporters in attendance and a “bunch a wimps” remark from Sen. Louise Lucas, (D-Portsmouth).

“For the Democrats that were elected on this, this will come with a little bit of sourness in the mouth,” said Dr. Ben Melusky, an assistant professor of political science with Old Dominion University.

The bill, backed by Gov. Ralph Northam, (D-Virginia), passed the House of Delegates 51-48 vote the week before.

Northam pushed the legislation, saying it would help prevent mass shootings like the one that occurred in Virginia Beach on May 31st, and has campaigned heavily for a broad package of gun control measures.

The legislation would have prohibited the future sale of certain semiautomatic firearms in Virginia, including popular AR-15 style rifles, and ban the possession of magazines that hold more than 12 rounds. 

However, moderate Democratic senators John Edwards (Roanoke), Creigh Deeds (Charlottesville), Scott Surovell (Fairfax) and Chap Petersen (Fairfax) voted with Republicans on the committee to kill the measure for the year.

There was confusion over what types of guns would constitute an “assault weapon,” according to Deeds.

Localities across Virginia voted to become either Second Amendment sanctuaries or Second Amendment constitutional cities ahead of the 2020 legislative session. Gun rights supporters flooded city halls and municipal centers angry with proposals that called for gun owners found with an assault weapon to be charged with a felony. Tens of thousands of gun rights activists from across the country flooded the state Capitol and surrounding area in protest on Martin Luther King Jr. day.

While the governor had hoped a watered-down version would win over enough Democratic moderates for passage, Mulusky said things were too far gone.

“[The sanctuary movement] grew and grew and grew to a point where the Democrats — even if they really wanted to — could reclaim the narrative,” Mulusky said. “The movement helped 100 percent… I mean, you saw the sheer amount of people that came out and responded to this.”

But the gun rights supporters’ victory certainly is temporary with more liberal Democrats and the governor vowing “they’ll be back” next year.

Mulusky said it could set the stage for better legislation overall.

“It gives the Democrats perhaps a chance to, leading into next years session, to better strategize, better plan, allows the governor and administration to come up with a perhaps a new bill to learn from the mistakes … moving into this and we’ll see what happens come next session,” Mulusky said.

Where localities stand on the Second Amendment:

Localities across Virginia are considering the idea of becoming Second Amendment sanctuaries, which are localities that have pledged not to use public resources to enforce any laws they see as unconstitutional. Some have passed resolutions simply in support of citizens’ Second Amendment rights, while others have said discussions on gun laws belong in Richmond.

Here’s the rundown on where area localities stand:

  • Accomack County: The Board of Supervisors did not make the county a “sanctuary,” but approved a resolution affirming its commitment to citizens’ rights under the Second Amendment Dec. 18.
  • Chesapeake: City Council did not make the city a “sanctuary,” but approved a resolution affirming its commitment to citizens’ rights under the Second Amendment Dec. 10.
  • Exmore: Exmore officials have passed a resolution to become a Second Amendment sanctuary city.
  • Gloucester County: The Board of Supervisors voted to become a Second Amendment sanctuary.
  • Hampton: City Council has not voted on any Second Amendment-related resolution, but hundreds voiced their support at the council meeting Dec. 11. The NAACP also attended and came out against the idea. Mayor said the issue is “premature.”
  • James City County: The Board of Supervisors did not make the county a “sanctuary,” but approved a resolution affirming its commitment to citizens’ rights under the Second Amendment Dec. 10.
  • Isle of Wight: The Board of Supervisors did not make the county a “sanctuary,” but approved a resolution to affirm its commitments to citizens’ rights under the Second Amendment.
  • Mathews County: The Board of Supervisors voted Dec. 17 to become a Second Amendment sanctuary.
  • Newport News: City Council has not voted on any Second Amendment-related resolution, but a large crowd attended a Dec. 10 meeting to voice support for gun rights.
  • Norfolk: City Council has not voted on any Second Amendment-related resolution, but a large crowd of residents voiced their support Dec. 10.
  • Northampton County: The Board of Supervisors passed a resolution expressing its support for the rights of citizens to bear arms under the Second Amendment Dec. 10, but the resolution did not declare it a “sanctuary.”
  • Poquoson: Poquoson City Council voted to become a “Constitutional City” and uphold citizens’ rights under the Second Amendment Dec. 9.
  • Portsmouth: City Council voted 4-3 in favor of passing a resolution declaring Portsmouth a “Second Amendment Constitutional City” Jan. 14.
  • Southampton County: Southampton officials have passed a resolution to become a Second Amendment sanctuary city.
  • Suffolk: City Council voted on December 16, 2019 in support of a resolution reaffirming Suffolk’s commitment to the Constitutions of the United States and the Commonwealth of Virginia. On Jan. 15, City Council unanimously voted to amend the resolution to add a paragraph expressing the city’s “deep and abiding commitment to protecting all Constitutional rights” of residents, as well as its opposition to any law, regulation or other act that would unconstitutionally infringe on the rights of citizens, even beyond the Second Amendment. It also strikes two lines.
  • Surry County: County officials did not make the county a “sanctuary,” but approved a resolution affirming its commitment to citizens’ rights under the Second Amendment Dec. 5.
  • Virginia Beach: City Council voted Jan. 6 to become a “Second Amendment Constitutional City.”
  • York County: The Board of Supervisors voted 4-1 Dec. 17 to become a “Constitutional City” and uphold citizens’ rights under the Second Amendment.

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