RICHMOND, Va. — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's push to ban the sale of assault weapons has failed after members of his own party balked at the proposal.
Moderate Democrats joined Republicans on a Senate committee Monday in rejecting legislation that would have prohibited the sale of certain semiautomatic firearms, including popular AR-15 style rifles, and banned the possession of magazines that hold more than 12 rounds.
The bill, drafted by Democratic Delegate Mark Levine, had already passed through the house along partisan lines. But in a 10-5 vote Monday, lawmakers continued the bill over to the 2021 session with a letter to the Crime Commission to study it.
Cheers from the hundreds of gun owners, gun rights supporters, and advocates that packed the General Assembly building, could be heard following that vote.
"I think about my daughters -- and the ladies in this state that have to be able to protect themselves against folks that want to harm them," said one gun owner following the vote. "So this bill not passing provides their safety -- and I’m so very happy."
But several who spoke out in support of the bill during the meeting, said the bill would help stop mass murders.
"Time and time again we have seen these weapons cause fear, cause destruction, and cause mass murder," said a supporter of the bill who spoke at the podium.
"I don’t need any instruction on assault weapons, and I don’t need to listen to the definitional debate. I am here to talk about a life and death issue," said a father who lost his daughter in the Virginia Tech mass shooting.
But despite these pleas to lawmakers, an even longer line of gun owners formed during the meeting, to explain why the bill should not be passed.
"The Virginia Tech Commission right after the shooting, in their report, stated that magazine size would’ve made no difference to the outcome," said Philip Van Cleave, President of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.
Following the vote, Van Cleave said Monday was an important win in a fight that's far from over.
"This was a message -- that gun owners across the state stood up and said we don’t want this bill. We don’t want our guns taken away, our suppressors our magazines. And that overwhelming support caused a shift that shows the importance of being active in protecting your rights. I think it was wonderful," Van Cleave said.
Delegate Levine said he will continue to work on the bill and try again next year.
"My concern is that there will be another mass murder -- somewhere in the United States in the next year," said Levine. "I wish to God it wouldn’t happen, but i expect it to. And when that happens people are going to be asked, 'Did you do something to prevent it?' I’ll know I did all I did, and all I could, at least to lesson the fatalities of the next mass murder."
The bill was a top priority for Northam, a Democrat, who has campaigned heavily for a broad package of gun-control measures. It will next go to the Crime Commission who will look at some of the definitions in the bill before trying again in the 2021 session.