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

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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.


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