RICHMOND, VA. – Democrats in the House of Delegates on Thursday passed seven of the eight gun control measures advocated by Gov. Ralph Northam, a significant step for an issue that Republicans had blocked for decades.
Lawmakers flashed the emotion that has supercharged the gun control issue in Virginia in recent weeks. Republicans from rural areas said the actions betrayed their way of life and the wishes of thousands of armed gun-rights protesters who descended on Richmond earlier this month.
Invoking the heritage of the American Revolution and a society "forged from wilderness," Del. Les Adams, a Republican from Pittsylvania, warned that the bills "are strongly resented by our people."
But Democrats noted that voters gave them a 55-45 majority in the House in last fall's elections, partly on the promise of gun control. They used that muscle to push the votes through in less time than it took Republicans to adjourn last summer's 90-minute special session on gun control, where no votes were taken.
"For too many years this body has put the convenience of gun owners above all else," Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington, said in a floor speech.
The state Senate has also passed versions of five of the bills, meaning the chambers are likely to send measures to Northam for signature in the coming weeks.
Other bills are still alive in committees, though a proposed ban on assault weapons has hit snags in both House and Senate. That was the lone measure from the governor's agenda that did not get to the House floor Thursday as lawmakers wrestle with how to define what guns would qualify and how the state would implement a ban.
On party-line votes, the House approved bills that would:
• enact a universal background check on private gun sales.
• require an owner to report the loss or theft of a firearm within 24 hours.
• give local governments the authority to enact gun laws of their own, such as banning weapons in public buildings.
• create a "red flag" law, or extreme risk protection order, in which authorities can temporarily seize firearms from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others.
• limit handgun purchases to one per month, a policy that had been in effect in Virginia until 2012.
• tightened the law prohibiting access to firearms for someone subject to a protective order.
• make it a felony to "recklessly" leave a firearm within reach of a child age 18 or younger, up from the current age of 14.
Those were all part of a package of measures Northam called for last year in the wake of a May 31 mass shooting in which a gunman killed 12 people at a Virginia Beach municipal building.