The Democratic-led Virginia General Assembly on Wednesday passed two more gun control measures that complete the remaining legislative efforts by Gov. Ralph Northam to enact stricter firearm laws in the state.
Gun control measures have been a priority for Northam, a Democrat, since he first introduced them in the 2019 legislative session. He further emphasized them in the wake of a mass shooting that year and reintroduced the bills as the “Governor’s Package” heading into 2020, when Democrats took control of both chambers of the state’s legislature. The bills will now head to Northam’s desk for his signature.
One bill will allow localities to regulate firearms in public places with the exemption of higher education institutions. The other bill will require individuals under protective orders to turn over their firearms within 24 hours and prove that they’ve done so or face being held in contempt of court for non-compliance.
The measures were passed during the annual reconvening, which allows state legislators to consider vetoes or amendments issued by the governor to pieces of legislation passed during the regular session. Under the state constitution, the General Assembly must meet the sixth Wednesday after adjournment.
However, due to coronavirus concerns, the Virginia House of Delegates held their session under a canopy while the Senate met at a science museum.
Lawmakers took to social media to share images of the unprecedented session, including House Del. Terry Kilgore and Sen. Jennifer McClellan.
Following the reconvened session, Northam thanked the General Assembly and called the bills “common-sense gun safety measures.”
“The work of government must continue, and both the House of Delegates and the Senate stepped up to make sure they conducted legislative business safely, while social distancing, and I appreciate those efforts,” Northam said.
Kris Brown, president of Brady, a pro-gun safety group, hailed the passage of the bills for making Virginia “safer.”
“We are grateful that they prioritized liberating our Commonwealth from the threat of gun violence,” Brown said in a press release.
The bills are part of Northam’s set of legislative priorities he pushed ahead of this year’s session. Northam signed five gun measures into law earlier this month, including a background checks bill for all state gun sales, a bill that limits the purchase of handguns to one a month, and an “extreme risk protective order.”
He also signed a bill that requires a person to report the loss or theft of a firearm within 48 hours, or face a civil penalty of up to $250 and one that raises the punishment for leaving a “loaded, unsecured firearm” that endangers anyone under the age of 14.
His push, however, for lawmakers to pass a ban on assault weapons died in a Senate committee during the regular session.
The bills have drawn criticism from gun rights groups, who showed up by the thousands in January to protest at the state capitol in Richmond.
Philip Van Cleave, the president of Virginia Citizens Defense League, previously told CNN that the pro-gun rights group “has been readying lawsuits for weeks to overturn some of the new gun-control laws in the courts.”
He told CNN Thursday that all the gun legislation passed this year won’t have any serious effect on crime, but “will definitely affect the law-abiding gun owners” in the state. He added that the extreme risk protection law “shreds much of the Constitutional protections we cherish in this country.”
Van Cleave pointed to the 2021 state elections as a way to “hopefully begin repealing these laws.”
The gun measures also drew the ire of President Donald Trump on Saturday, who argued that Virginia wants “to violate your Second Amendment.”
“They’re trying to take your guns away in Virginia. And if people in Virginia aren’t careful, that’s what’s going to happen to them,” Trump said during a White House task force briefing on coronavirus.
Northam defended the measures on CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying that he was pleased to sign legislation “that will keep Virginians safe.”