When Democrats took control of Virginia’s legislature after last November’s elections, the first item on the agenda was gun control.
It was, after all, how they’d managed to recapture the General Assembly — promising liberals, particularly in the D.C. suburbs, that they’d crack down on guns.
The biggest and most ambitious item on the agenda: a ban on so-called “assault weapons.”
This was non-negotiable to Democratic leadership, and when waves of counties and municipalities began declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” which wouldn’t enforce gun laws that authorities deemed to be unconstitutional, there was talk of calling out the National Guard.
It turns out that won’t be necessary, at least for the moment: There will be no ban on the sale of “assault weapons.”
The bill was part of a suite of eight gun-control measures that Democrat Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has been advancing since last summer; Republicans’ refusal to consider them became a campaign talking point for Democrats in their campaign to retake the state legislature.
It’s hardly the end of the matter, however.
Del. Mark Levine, the House of Delegates member who sponsored the bill, had an ominous warning on Twitter: “We will be back.”
The House of Delegates has generally been more liberal than the state Senate, which has been more cautious than the lower house on bills being put forth by Northam.
Three of the Democrats’ gun bills have been quietly been put out to pasture by Democrats there, who believe that a swift move to pass as much liberal legislation as possible could lead to a voter backlash in 2021.
This hasn’t just been the case on limiting gun rights, either; collective bargaining, minimum wage and budgetary legislation from Northam have all faced much tougher fights in the Senate than in the House.
On Monday, the Senate’s Committee on the Judiciary voted 10-5 to consign the “assault weapons” ban to the state’s Crime Commission for a study, essentially ending the chances it’ll be passed this year. Four Democrats joined with Republicans in the vote, which elicited applause from the room.
House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn condemned the Senate Democrats who refused to vote for the bill.
“The Democratic platform last fall was very clear,” Filler-Corn said in a statement.
“Limiting access to weapons of war used in mass murder was a key part of that platform. The House of Delegates delivered on our promise to take action to keep those weapons off our streets. To call today’s vote by the Senate Judiciary Committee a disappointment would be an understatement.”
Levine retweeted this, along with his portentous warning:
We will be back. https://t.co/6ZMAn3wDM9
— Mark Levine (@DelegateMark) February 17, 2020
For whatever it’s worth, it might be difficult to take seriously the threats of a man who made this face when the bill failed in committee:
Cheers erupted when the Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee voted to not move forward on HB961, the the “assault weapons” ban and magazine confiscation bill, for the year.@DelegateMark, who had been pushing for the bill, has a priceless reaction. pic.twitter.com/rvvF8JiWcO
— Julio Rosas (@Julio_Rosas11) February 17, 2020
However sad-trombone that look may be, it would be difficult to count Virginia Democrats out.
For reasons unbeknownst to God and man, Gov. Northam retains considerable power in the state even after he was thoroughly disgraced last year in a blackface photo scandal.
The suite of gun control legislation is a huge part of his legacy; without it, Virginians and other Americans who remember him at all will remember a very ugly photo of a minstrel and a klansman in a medical school yearbook.
He’d clearly prefer the gun control legislation.
Meanwhile, it’s worth noting Virginia’s Senate isn’t exactly wrong here.
Yes, the Democrats won the elections in November and Virginia holds off-year elections, meaning you’ll have a considerable advantage if you can get out single-issue voters.
Yes, Virginia is also a state that seems to be turning from purple to blue.
However, the anaphylactic reaction of the body politic in Virginia to these gun control bills show how dangerous the issue is for Democrats.
There were the “Second Amendment sanctuaries,” a movement which started before the new legislature was inaugurated and should have quickly demonstrated just how toxic this issue was.
There was the gun-rights protest at the Capitol in Richmond several weeks ago; the mood wasn’t helped by the prior insinuation that violent white supremacists and fringe groups had taken control of the peaceful demonstration and definitely wasn’t helped by Northam’s wild claim that “armed militia groups planned to storm the Capitol.”
Northam spokeswoman Alena Yarmosky told The Post the governor was “disappointed” by the defeat but “fully expects the Crime Commission to give this measure the detailed review that Senators called for. We will be back next year.”
They may be. So will Levine. And so will the people who reacted with vigor to a new government that, the moment it got into power, looked to took away their rights.
The latter camp showed it could win even without control of the legislature — but only with vigilance.
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