Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam signed a handful of new, stricter gun control measures into law on April 10, even after opposition from Second Amendment advocates culminated in a rally of more than 22,000 people at the state’s capitol earlier this year.
The laws—which go into effect on July 1—include universal background checks on all gun sales, a limit on handgun purchases to one per month, a law penalizing gun owners for not reporting a stolen firearm, and a “red flag” bill that would allow authorities to temporarily confiscate guns from anyone deemed by a judge to be dangerous to themselves or others.
Democrats last year won control of both chambers of the state legislature—for the first time in more than two decades—and vowed to enact stronger gun control policies, saying they will help reduce shootings and deaths. In addition to the majority in the state legislature, the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general also are Democrats.
“These commonsense laws will save lives,” Northam said in a statement. Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, a Democrat, called the passage of bills “a monumental day.”
Gun rights groups told The Epoch Times that the state legislature is ignoring a large majority of Virginians who they say ardently oppose all gun control measures. Second Amendment advocates argue that the new laws violate their constitutional rights.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), told The Epoch Times previously that the organization’s members don’t like any of the bills that had been moving through the legislature but at least “almost all of them have been watered down,” and others were outright defeated.
“VCDL will be working to get them repealed in future legislatures,” he said via a Twitter message.
The massive gun rights rally in January was organized by the VCDL to peacefully oppose the barrage of gun control policies moving through the state legislature.
John Crump, Virginia state director for the Gun Owners of America (GOA), also said that group will do everything in its power to fight for the rights of Virginians.
“We are prepared to take these battles to the courts as well as the ballot box,” Crump previously told The Epoch Times via email. “We will never stop fighting for liberty and freedom.”
One of the more controversial gun control measures, a ban on “assault weapons,” was rejected by state lawmakers in February, the result of a wide-reaching and comprehensive grassroots strategy executed by a handful of second amendment advocates and organizations, according to gun rights groups.
Executives at four gun rights groups told The Epoch Times that a barrage of social media alerts, phone calls, and emails to lawmakers, office visits, petitions, public awareness campaigns, and testimonies at hearings they helped organize with members were all contributing factors to the legislation losing support in a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing.
That assault weapons ban (House Bill 961) was shelved to next year’s session after four Democratic senators—Creigh Deeds, John Edwards, Chap Petersen, and Scott Surovell—broke with their party to join Republicans in rejecting the bill in a 10–5 vote. Lawmakers also asked the state crime commission to study the issue.
Meanwhile, gun-control advocates said that they’re planning to replicate their success in Virginia in other states. John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said his group plans to spend heavily this year in key battleground states such as Arizona, North Carolina, and Pennsylvania to elect lawmakers who support new gun restrictions, according to The Associated Press.
At the same time, hundreds of local counties, cities, and towns across America are declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” or “constitutional counties,” as part of a growing movement in which local officials and some sheriffs generally state that they won’t enforce new gun laws they believe are unconstitutional.
In Virginia, the epicenter of the gun debate, 91 of the state’s 95 counties have passed some sort of measure affirming their support for Second Amendment sanctuaries.