Senate Judiciary Committee votes in support of several gun control measures

Virginia Politics

RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Once again, the possibility of more legislation on guns prompted hundreds of pro-gun advocates to show up in Richmond with a message to legislators — specifically Democrats — to back off new legislation creating more gun control.

Democrats responded Monday by passing four new legislative bills out of the Senate Judiciary Committee,including universal background checks, one gun a month and red flag legislation.

Another bill also passed by the committee would allow localities to ban guns in government buildings and government-sponsored events.

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax also got to work Monday.

Arriving at the Virginia State Capitol, and after stopping to talk guns with 10 On Your Side and state Sen. Bill DeSteph, Fairfax responded to a shout from a woman defending her right to bear arms. Fairfax jumped up on the wall wrapping around the Capitol entrance and engaged the pro-gun crowd for about 20 minutes.

The verbal engagement drew a large crowd. Fairfax won himself some credibility with some in the crowd for stopping and listening and pondering what the other side was saying.

“Who would think we would be standing here actually protecting the right in the America we grew up in,” one man said.

While the Democratic push for gun legislation from many Democrats in the legislature has prompted some gun rights activists to distrust Democrats, Fairfax was not deterred. He jumped right into the fray with his hand extended.

So far, Republicans have been open to talking about background checks but haven’t said which bills they support.

One man in the crowd said he knew Democrats would “do what [they] want,” but asked Fairfax to give his word legislation would be done “the right way.”

“You have my word,” Fairfax said in response. “You have my word, and I will do everything I can, but this is a key component [the legislation] to us getting this right.”

Inside the General Assembly office building, more people were outside the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing room than inside. Some of those outside turned to social media to find out what was going on inside.

The red flag bill passed 9-5. It’s headed to the Senate floor where it will be fine-tuned.

State Sen. Louise Lucas, (D-Portsmouth), was not happy the universal background check bill was approved with an amendment that lessens the penalty for violation.

“I needed to get that out of committee, and we will work on that amendment. I have been for universal background checks for years, and today it had an amendment. I do not like that, but I wasn’t going to vote against it because I needed to get something out…I don’t like the penalty Class Six Felony moving to a Class one that does nothing,” she said.

WAVY News met Larry Meyers from Williamsburg who doesn’t like what he sees in the new democratically-controlled General Assembly.

“Now I see these same liberals taking away my Second Amendment rights the right to bear arms. This is necessary to protect us from the tyranny of government,” Meyers said.

State Sen. Tommy Norment, (R-James City County), is concerned about due process with the red flag bill.

“What are we doing about procedural safeguards, who is defining what extreme circumstances are? And that is critical but is not in the bill,” Norment said.

The hearing room for the Senate Judiciary Committee were filled mostly pro-gun supporters. There were some signs that said “sensible gun laws equal less gun violence.”

“We support red flag laws, they are saving lives and have broad support on the state level and the national level,” said Michelle Sandler with Moms Demand Action.

Philip Van Cleave with Virginia Citizens Defense League, a well-known gun advocate, believes there’s another flaw with the bills.

“All these bills do is fall under the ‘I hate gun owners,’ especially if you are poor, and this bill will not allow you to get a court-appointed attorney if you can’t afford one.”

Catherine Mortensen, a spokesperson for the National Rifle Association, said lawmakers are “punishing honest, hardworking Virginians” in a statement following the party-line votes to pass the measures through the committee.

“Regrettably, Virginia lawmakers approved a series of measures today that will make it harder for law-abiding Virginians to protect themselves, while doing nothing to stop criminals,” Mortensen said. “We are pleased one of the most egregious gun confiscation bills was pulled from consideration. The NRA will continue our work with lawmakers to find solutions that address the root cause of violent crime, rather than punishing honest, hardworking Virginians.”

The bills will now go to the Senate floor for a full vote.

In response to the vote, Attorney General Mark Herring released a statement.

“Virginians have been calling for commonsense gun safety laws for far too long and today we have taken the first steps to finally make our communities safer,” said Attorney General Herring. “The passage of a one-gun-a-month law and a red flag law are substantial steps towards keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals and preventing gun violence in the Commonwealth. While I am disappointed that a weakened version of the universal background checks bill passed this morning, it is my hope that we will pass full universal background checks before this session is over.
“Additionally, I am pleased that the Senate Courts of Justice Committee passed the bill that would allow localities to prohibit firearms at permitted events. I have been introducing this legislation since the tragic events in Charlottesville in 2017 but, unfortunately, every year Republican-held committees failed to pass it. Allowing localities to restrict the use of firearms at permitted events will make participants, bystanders, communities and law enforcement agencies safer.”

– Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring

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