Democrats took over both houses of the Virginia Legislature in November thanks in large part to voter support for gun control after mass shootings. Or so they claimed. But if they believe that, they now have some explaining to do after Gov. Ralph Northam’s restrictive gun-control proposal was shelved Monday for lack of votes.
The bill had passed the state House, 51 to 48. But in the state Senate four Democrats joined every Republican on the Judiciary Committee to kill Northam’s so-called assault-weapons ban. The bill would have prohibited the sale of many semiautomatic firearms, as well as banned the possession of magazines holding more than 12 rounds.
The latter would have required tens of thousands of Virginians either to surrender their legally purchased magazines or face up to a year in prison. The Democratic rout of the Democratic bill is a rebuke to Northam, who has interpreted last year’s narrow takeover of the Legislature as a license to try to impose restrictive gun laws similar to those in New York and California.
The Virginia Legislature has waved through much of his gun agenda, including universal background checks, and a one-gun-per-month purchasing limit. But the voter backlash has been loud and swift, with more than 20,000 Virginia gun owners rallying last month at the state Capitol in Richmond. Ninety-one of Virginia’s 95 counties have also declared themselves to be “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” saying they won’t enforce state gun laws that violate the U.S. Constitution.
The committee vote refers the bill to the Virginia State Crime Commission for further study, and some Democrats are attempting to mollify gun-control activists by claiming they aren’t opposed to a ban as much as to the bill’s vague wording. The truth is that the dissenting Democrats are worried that a voter revolt on gun rights would cost their seats, and perhaps their two-seat majority in the state Senate.
The conventional media wisdom is that the politics of gun rights has moved left, and that bans are now possible even in swing states. Every one of the leading Democratic presidential candidates favors a ban on so-called assault rifles. But support for individual gun rights runs deep across the country. Voters rightly mistrust politicians who say they support “reasonable” gun laws while campaigning but then try to ban weapons or magazines once in power.