RICHMOND, Va. (AP)- Democrats in the Virginia House are advancing a package of gun-control measures less than a week after tens of thousands of pro-gun advocates from around the country rallied at the state Capitol.

But the advancing bills don’t yet include a proposed assault weapon ban, a top priority for Gov. Ralph Northam and one that’s drawn fierce resistance from gun-rights advocates.

A Democratic-led House committee voted Friday for several pieces of gun legislation that a Republican majority has blocked for years. Those bills include limiting handgun purchases to once a month; universal background checks on gun purchases; allowing localities to ban guns in public buildings, parks and other areas; and a red flag bill that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from anyone deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.

The measures will go to the full House for a vote, likely next week, before going to the Senate, which has already passed some gun-control bills of its own.

The House committee passed seven out of eight gun bills that Northam has said were his priority. But it did not take up an assault weapon ban, which some Democrats said they don’t think can pass this year. The Senate has already killed off its version of the bill and some moderate Democratic senators said they won’t support the legislation, which would outlaw the popular AR-15-style rifles.

Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran said they are still working on the bill and there’s plenty of time left to get it passed.

“It’s an important issue for the governor,” Moran said. “We’ve seen in mass shootings, these are the weapons that are used.”

However, in the two most notable mass shootings in Virginia, Virginia Tech in 2007 and Virginia Beach just last year, pistols were used by the gunmen.

Virginia has become a key flash point in the national debate over gun violence.

Northam and Democratic lawmakers have credited their focus on gun control for helping them win full control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than two decades. Guns were a key topic of last year’s legislative elections and gun-control groups heavily funded Democratic candidates. Republicans were outspent massively by Democrats in the 2019 elections, and have claimed redistricting drawn by a California professor is the reason the state flipped fully blue.

On Monday, tens of thousands of gun-rights activists from around the country rallied peacefully at the Virginia Capitol to protest plans by the state’s Democratic leadership to pass gun-control legislation.

Some of the most vocal opposition has focused on plans to ban AR-15s and other assault weapons. Gun-rights advocates have accused Democrats of wanting to confiscate such rifles from current gun owners. Northam has said he has no interest in doing so.

More than 100 counties and towns have enacted a ‘Second Amendment Sanctuary’ status, which directs law enforcement not to enforce unconstitutional gun laws. 

Article 1 Section 13 of the Virginia Constitution states “a well regulated militia, composed of the body of the people, trained to arms, is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state, therefore, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

 

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