Virginia Democrats pass first gun bills through committee

RICHMOND, Va. (AP/WTKR) — Some top Virginia Democrats are expressing reservations about plans to ban assault weapons.

That's a key part of Gov. Ralph Northam's gun-control proposals and one that's drawn fierce resistance from gun-rights advocates.

Citizens Defense League, president Philip VanCleave, gestures as State Sen. Mamie Locke, D-Hampton, left, listens during the meeting of the Senate Judiciary committee at the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. The committee passed several gun related bills including the one-gun-a-month bill sponsored by Locke. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

 Sen. John Edwards said he supports a ban under the right circumstances but the issue is more complicated than people realize and passing a ban will be difficult.

The Senate Judiciary Committee moved quickly Monday to advance several pieces of gun legislation that a Republican majority has blocked for years. The proposals include universal background checks. The committee did not debate an assault weapons ban.

"This is not a partisan issue, but rather a public safety issue," said Sen. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth), who sponsored the bill to expand background checks. "We'll help to ensure that Virginia is part of a solution in preventing gun violence rather than part of the problem."

Other proposals would restore Virginia's one handgun a month law, a red flag law, and allow local governments to ban guns in certain public places.

"Currently, there is no limitation on the number of handguns that can be purchased each month, which creates an avenue for traffickers or straw purchasers to stockpile weapons," said Sen. Mamie Locke (D-Hampton).

Opponents say restoring the law is not necessary. "The main source of illegal guns for criminals is to steal," one said.

Members of the NRA tried to lobby their lawmakers to vote against the gun bills with hundreds flooding the Capitol. "We are still in the unfortunate position that many of these bills are radical and beyond the pale," said D.J. Spiker, the NRA Virginia State Director. Pro-second amendment advocates are planning a bigger demonstration for next week.

The four bills passed of committee will now advance to the full Senate. Democrats are hopeful they'll pass. "There's still a long way to go, but I'm optimistic that with these steps that it's really encouraging to see Virginia is finally going to be able to take real affirmative steps to help keep our communities safer," Attorney General Mark Herring said.

Related: Virginia lawmakers ban guns at state Capitol 

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