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Democrats ‘move the needle’ on gun regulation campaign promises

Democrats delivered on their campaign promises to introduce gun safety measures if they won control in the state General Assembly, although most bills did not pass the desk of Gov. Glenn Youngkin. The governor opted to sign “commonsense reforms.”

Capital News Service



By Vali Jamal

Democrats delivered on their campaign promises to introduce gun safety measures if they won control in the state General Assembly, although most bills did not pass the desk of Gov. Glenn Youngkin.

Youngkin vetoed over 30 bills related to the regulation of firearms, some duplicates from both chambers. The bills included measures to institute a waiting period, raise the purchase age, regulate concealed carry and a total ban on assault weapons.

Democrats promised and delivered in the sense that they advanced the bills to Youngkin’s desk, according to Alex Keena, an associate professor of political science at Virginia Commonwealth University.

“Even if the governor vetoed the legislation, it still is a ‘win’ for the Democrats because the governor is vetoing legislation that a majority of the public supports,” Keena stated. “Which makes the Republicans look bad and the Democrats look good.

Youngkin amended six firearm-related bills that he said “will make it harder for criminals to use guns in the commission of a violent act.”

He signed four that he said were bipartisan, “commonsense reforms.”

Two identical bills punish parents who let their children possess a firearm if they had been previously warned by school officials that their child poses a threat to themselves or others.

The other two identical bills ban auto sears, a device that allows a semi-automatic firearm to shoot automatically more than one shot, without manual reloading. This brings the state into alignment with federal law.

“So in that regard, they were able to move the needle (so to speak) by getting the governor to approve reasonable gun safety measures with broad popular appeal,” Keena stated.

Virginians want more gun policy, Democrats say

Sen. Saddam Azlan Salim, D-Fairfax, sponsored multiple pieces of gun legislation throughout the session, many of which were vetoed by the governor.

Democrats pushed firearm legislation because their constituents often brought up “gun violence prevention” as a top issue, according to Salim.

“Right now kids have to go through active shooter drills, where no one in this General Assembly has had to do that when they were in school,” Salim said. “So how do we tell a parent, ‘hey it’s just a drill,’ and we’re doing the drill knowing that there could be an incident that could happen in the future?”

Youngkin’s veto sends a message to Virginians that he doesn’t care about what the majority wants, Salim said.

Virginians have the most consensus around creating criminal penalties for gun owners if their firearms are used by minors in a crime, and requiring gun owners to lock up firearms if children are in the home, according to a January survey by The Wason Center.

A slight majority support banning assault-style weapons, and oppose allowing teachers to carry guns in K-12 schools.

Salim introduced Senate Bill 327 to raise the minimum age to purchase a gun to 21. The bill passed in a party-line vote in the Senate. One House Republican legislator, Del. Carrie Coyner from Chesterfield, supported the bill.

Youngkin also vetoed SB 491, introduced by Sen. Jennifer Carroll Foy, D-Woodbridge.

Her bill held the firearm industry liable if guns were sold to someone who the sellers could have “reasonable cause” to assume might use a firearm in a crime, or who is prohibited by law from owning a firearm.

Carroll Foy cited gun violence as a major issue for her constituents.

“We knock on doors and we hear from constituents that their top concerns are mass shootings, and their top concerns are the increase of the use of guns by minors, by people who are mentally ill, by people who are a danger to themselves and others,” Carroll Foy said. “We listen to those concerns.”

Democrats put forth “commonsense” safety measures, according to Carroll Foy.

“While I understand the Republican response is ‘the answer to guns is more guns,’ we know that’s faulty thinking,” Carroll Foy said. “It is a fallacy to believe that more guns is the answer to gun violence in this country.”

Philosophical differences between parties

Democrats passed a number of gun control measures while in control of both chambers for two years under former Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam, according to Carroll Foy.

This included background checks, purchase limits, locality regulation of firearms on government property and a red flag law that prevents purchase or possession of a firearm by those deemed to be a danger to themselves or others.

“We philosophically disagree with Republicans, whose platform on gun safety reform is to do nothing,” Carroll Foy said.

Youngkin cited the constitution and protection of the rights of law-abiding citizens as reasons for his vetoes.

Senate Minority Leader Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover, said the fundamental difference between the parties is whether to focus on guns or criminal activity.

“Republicans, for the most part, believe that the Second Amendment is a constitutional amendment and there should not be the effort to just take guns from law-abiding citizens,” McDougle said. “The focus should be on making sure that the community is protected from people that have proven they are not willing to follow the law.”

Gun rights advocates back Youngkin

National Rifle Association executive director Randy Kozuch praised Youngkin’s vetos of “ill-conceived” gun control bills.

“His refusal to bow to unconstitutional overreach — stopping widespread bans on semi-automatic firearms, blocking ill-conceived laws like arbitrary waiting periods, and unjust age restrictions — underscores his fierce commitment to safeguarding our fundamental rights,” Kozuch stated.

Philip Van Cleave is president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, an organization that lobbies on behalf of gun owners. Van Cleave opposed most of the measures Democrats supported and said they were not aimed at criminals, but at people like him.

“The vast majority of the Republicans understood the issues, that these bills were bad, that they wouldn’t lower crime, that they would only make it harder on good people,” Van Cleave said. “They did everything they could do.”

The governor “did an excellent job” with the vetoes, Van Cleave said.

Van Cleave’s organization originally opposed two bills that the governor signed, because they “overreached.”

“But they were narrowed down by the time they got to the governor,” Van Cleave said. “We were neutral on them.”

The General Assembly will reconvene on April 17 to review and vote on the governor’s changes and vetoes.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.

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The Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Richard T. Robertson School of Media and Culture. In the program, journalism students cover news in Richmond and across Virginia and distribute their stories, photos, and other content to more than 100 newspapers, television and radio stations, and news websites.