Virginia House advances gun control measures

ALAN SUDERMAN

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Democrats in the Virginia House are advancing a package of gun-control measures less than a week after tens of thousands of pro-gun advocates from around the country rallied at the state Capitol.

But the advancing bills don't yet include a proposed assault weapon ban, a top priority for Gov. Ralph Northam and one that's drawn fierce resistance from gun-rights advocates.

A Democratic-led House committee voted Friday for several pieces of gun legislation that a Republican majority has blocked for years. Those bills include limiting handgun purchases to once a month; universal background checks on gun purchases; allowing localities to ban guns in public buildings, parks and other areas; and a red flag bill that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from anyone deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.

“Our action today is for the families who have lost loved ones as a result of gun violence,” House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn said.

The measures will go to the full House for a vote, likely next week, before going to the Senate, which has already passed some gun-control bills of its own.

The House committee passed seven out of eight gun bills that Northam has said were his priority. But it did not take up an assault weapon ban, which some Democrats said they don't think can pass this year. The Senate has already killed off its version of the bill and some moderate Democratic senators said they won't support the legislation, which would outlaw the popular AR-15-style rifles.

Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran said they are still working on the bill and there's plenty of time left to get it passed.

“It's an important issue for the governor,” Moran said. “We've seen in mass shootings, these are the weapons that are used.”

Virginia has become a key flash point in the national debate over gun violence.

Northam and Democratic lawmakers have credited their focus on gun control for helping them win full control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than two decades. Guns were a key topic of last year's legislative elections — particularly after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach claimed a dozen lives — and gun-control groups heavily funded Democratic candidates.

On Monday, tens of thousands of gun-rights activists from around the country rallied peacefully at the Virginia Capitol to protest plans by the state’s Democratic leadership to pass gun-control legislation.

Some of the most vocal opposition has focused on plans to ban AR-15s and other assault weapons. Gun-rights advocates have accused Democrats of wanting to confiscate such rifles from current gun owners. Northam has said he has no interest in doing so.

An estimated 8 million AR-style guns have been sold since they were introduced to the public in the 1960s. The weapons are known as easy to use, easy to clean and easy to modify with a variety of scopes, stocks and rails.