Assault weapons ban clears committee; crowd ordered out by police

Virginia Politics

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — A recent protest with more than 20,000 Second Amendment supporters didn’t stop House Democrats from advancing one of their most controversial gun control proposals.

Many of those same protesters returned to the Capitol on Friday to tell lawmakers they won’t comply.

So many people showed up for the House Public Safety Committee meeting that dozens were forced to wait in the hallway. A handful of gun control supporters, who praised the legislation as “life saving,” were also in attendance.

The crowd erupted after delegates voted 12-9 to report a bill that would ban assault weapons and several firearm accessories to the full House floor. Capitol Police cleared out the room immediately after the vote, even though the agenda wasn’t complete.

Gun owners packed the committee room Friday and erupted in protest when the measured passed.

Capitol Police cleared the committee room of almost every spectator after the vote. 

“We will not strip ourselves of our ability to defend ourselves, our families or our neighbors,” said Mark Curtis, a gun rights supporter from Beaverdam, Va., after the meeting. “We have all been trained. We have all been through the vetting process to be able to have that protection, that right.”

The bill would ban the possession of bump stocks and the sale of suppressors.

American Suppressor Association President Knox Williams said the accessory is already strictly regulated. “The quietest is still louder than a jack hammer striking concrete,” he told the committee.

The bill would also prohibit high-capacity magazines at 12 rounds or more. Currently, magazines over 20 rounds are limited in more than a dozen Virginia localities, including Richmond and Virginia Beach, but the law doesn’t apply to those with a concealed carry permit.

Virginia Secretary of Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran said this accessory allowed the Virginia Tech shooter to do more damage.

“When seconds mattered, they [the students] could’ve escaped through that window. Reloading that magazine mattered,” Moran said.

The bill expands the definition of an assault weapon to include the AR-15, a popular firearm used by many for self-protection and hunting.

Andrew Goddard with the Virginia Center for Public Safety said his son likely wouldn’t have survived the Virginia Tech shooting if this gun had been used.

“If you put an AR-15 round into a persons liver it becomes, as someone described, like a jello mold dropped on the floor,” Goddard said. “There is no place for that in civilian life.”

Del. Mark Levine (D-45) sponsored the bill. He described the version debated on Friday as a compromise because it doesn’t mandate that current assault weapon owners give up their guns. He said lawmakers also removed registration requirements previously included.

That deal didn’t satisfy the National Riffle Association, who said they weren’t consulted on the so-called compromise.

“This bill will not make Virginians safer. What this bill does is make Virginians, law-abiding Virginians, felons overnight. We strongly oppose this bill,” said D.J. Spiker, an NRA Virginia lobbyist.

Governor Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring support the proposal.

The full House is expected to vote on the bill early next week. If it passes, the legislation could face more push back in the Senate, where some Democrats have indicted they won’t support it.

When asked what he’d say to those who think this bill goes too far, Del. Levine pointed out that groups like Giffords, a gun control advocacy organization, have pulled their support because it doesn’t go far enough.

Del. Levine pointed to the federal assault weapons ban as an example of what the state should strive for. He said it reduced fatalities from mass-murder by 70 percent.

“I realize in Virginia we probably won’t get as far as the federal government did,” Levine said .”But if we can save only 100 lives, I think it’s worth while.”

The bill defines assault weapons as follows:

  1. A semi-automatic center-fire rifle that expels single or multiple projectiles by action of an explosion of a combustible material with a fixed magazine capacity in excess of 12 rounds
  2. A semi-automatic center-fire rifle that expels single or multiple projectiles by action of an explosion of a combustible material that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine and has one of the following characteristics: (i) a folding or telescoping stock; (ii) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the rifle; (iii) a second handgrip or a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand; (iv) a grenade launcher; (v) a flare launcher, (vi) a silencer; (vii) a flash suppressor; (viii) a muzzle brake; (ix) a muzzle compensator; (x) a threaded barrel capable of accepting(a) a silencer, (b) a flash suppressor, (c) a muzzle brake, or (d) a muzzle compensator; or (xi) any characteristic of like kind as enumerated in clauses (i) through (x)
  3. A semi-automatic center-fire pistol that expels single or multiple projectiles by action of an explosion of a combustible material with a fixed magazine capacity in excess of 12 rounds;
  4. A semi-automatic center-fire pistol that expels single or multiple projectiles by action of an explosion of a combustible material that has the ability to accept a detachable magazine and has one of the following characteristics: (i) a folding or telescoping stock; (ii) a second handgrip or a protruding grip that can be held by the non-trigger hand; (iii) the capacity to accept a magazine that attaches to the pistol outside of the pistol grip; (iv) a shroud that is attached to, or partially or completely encircles, the barrel and that permits the shooter to hold the pistol with the non-trigger hand without being burned; (v) a manufactured weight of 50 ounces or more when the pistol is unloaded; (vi) a threaded barrel capable of accepting (a) a silencer, (b) a flash suppressor, (c) a barrel extender, or (d) a forward handgrip; or (vii) any characteristic of like kind as enumerated in clauses (i) through (vi)
  5. A shotgun with a revolving cylinder that expels single or multiple projectiles by action of an explosion of a combustible material; or
  6. A semi-automatic shotgun that expels single or multiple projectiles by action of an explosion of a combustible material that has one of the following characteristics: (i) a folding or telescoping stock, (ii) a pistol grip that protrudes conspicuously beneath the action of the shotgun, (iii) the ability to accept a detachable magazine, (iv) a fixed magazine capacity in excess of seven rounds; or (v) any characteristic of like kind as enumerated in clauses (i) through (iv)

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