Gun owners in Virginia are preparing for what promises to be a contentious legislative session set to begin on Wednesday, January 8, at the General Assembly in Richmond.
One-hundred and sixteen counties, cities, and towns representing over 90 percent of Virginia’s landmass have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries in response to proposed gun control legislation from the state’s Democratic-controlled legislature. Tomorrow’s session will begin to test whether the state’s gun-rights groups can turn that enthusiasm into legislative wins.
At the top of the gun control agenda is SB 16, Virginia’s version of the “assault weapons” ban passed in states like New York and California. As currently written, the bill would require those who currently possess “assault weapons” to turn in or destroy them.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has voiced support for a grandfather clause, but Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave has vowed not to compromise on any gun control measures.
“Will VCDL accept such a ‘compromise?’ Oh, HELL no,” he said in an email to supporters in December.
Republicans in Virginia’s General Assembly may not be so stalwart. Republican State Sen. Tommy Norment said at a luncheon in Virginia Beach that he expects members of his party to back several gun control proposals.
“Universal background checks, I predict, is coming out no matter what the governor has said. It is going to happen because there is a majority of Republicans and Democrats who will pass it,” he said.
Norment also expects some Republicans to back a “red flag” bill as long as it is “appropriately” and “narrowly-drawn.”
Since Democrats control the House 55-45 and the Senate 21-19, any defections by Republicans virtually assures the passage of any given gun control measure.
As the VCDL’s Van Cleave explained to GunsAmerica in November, some gun control measures might be blocked in the Senate if gun-rights activists can convince at least two Democrats in purple districts to vote against them. But that strategy relies on unity among Republicans, which right now is anything but assured.
Some localities have taken their resistant stance a step further.
Tazewell County made headlines last month when it voted to form a militia in an attempt to keep its citizens’ firearms from being seized. Ask to clarify their position, the Board of Supervisors issued this statement:
On Dec. 3rd, 2019, our Board of Supervisors chose to exercise some of its rights under the Virginia Constitution to order or regulate militia. By insuring that our residents have the opportunity (1) to possess certain types of firearms, (2) to educate themselves on their use, (3) to learn common military practices, and (4) to learn basic survival skills, we hope to preserve a group of residents who could form a militia, were such a body needed. Without these most basic elements our County would not have a group of persons from whom a militia could be drawn. At the moment, however, the Board has not called any such militia to arms and prays that such moment never occurs.
The board cites as its authority Article I Section 13 of Virginia’s Constitution, which states that “a well regulated militia… is the proper, natural, and safe defense of a free state.”
Virginia residents who would like to voice their opposition to gun control measures can contact their state representatives by clicking here.
Gun owners are also encouraged to attend a lobby day in Richmond on January 20 hosted by the Virginia Citizens Defense League. Buses have been chartered across the state, and more information is available here.