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Northam administration outlines gun control measures, releases proposed definition of 'assault weapon'
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Northam administration outlines gun control measures, releases proposed definition of 'assault weapon'

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Update: A previous version of this story said Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, would introduce a Northam-backed bill calling for an assault weapons ban. Ebbin, who introduced such a measure during the special session, is not planning to do so this session. A staffer for Public Safety Secretary Brian Moran said, "We ultimately decided to focus the administration's efforts on the House version of this bill," patroned by Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria.

The Northam administration threw its weight Thursday behind the eight proposals it will back on gun control this legislative session, including a ban on assault weapons defined as any semiautomatic rifle or pistol with a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds.

The Northam-backed bill would go into effect in July, but would allow people who already own an assault weapon to obtain a permit from the state for restricted use. Without a permit, the guns would have to be disposed of, surrendered or made inoperable by January 2021.

The bills add specificity to proposals Gov. Ralph Northam outlined in the aftermath of the May 31 shooting in which a Virginia Beach city employee fatally shot 12 people. The proposals represent a small portion of the bills filed on gun topics so far this session.

“We are not taking positions on any other bills,” related to guns, said Public Safety Secretary Brian Moran during a presentation Thursday morning to state officials and community activists.

The Northam-backed assault weapons ban will be sponsored by Del. Mark Levine and Sen. Adam Ebbin, both Democrats from Alexandria.

It is different from a bill filed by Senate Majority Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Fairfax, that does not include a “grandfather” provision for current owners of weapons deemed assault weapons. The lack of such a provision in Saslaw’s bill has raised concerns among some gun-rights backers about confiscation. Saslaw has said his bill will be amended in committee to “resolve some problems.”

The Levine-Ebbin proposal would make it a Class 6 felony to import, sell, buy, transfer or build an assault weapon within the state.

Catherine Mortensen, a spokeswoman for the National Rifle Association, said in a statement: “Gov. Northam is still seeking to punish law-abiding Virginians for the actions of violent criminals. While the governor claimed that he would temper some of his previous positions, this bill would decimate the self-defense rights of law-abiding Virginians.”

She said the Levine bill on assault firearms “includes a broad ban on commonly possessed firearms, gun registration, and outright confiscation, all of which are non-starters for the NRA. We remain committed to working with lawmakers where there is an opening and ability to do so.”

Northam’s package also includes a “red flag” law proposed by Del. Rip Sullivan, D-Fairfax, and Sen. George Barker, D-Fairfax, that would remove firearms, through a legal warrant, from people deemed a risk to themselves through what is called an “extreme risk protective order.”

Republicans have expressed concern that this type of legislation would violate due-process rights for people deemed in crisis.

“This protective order may only be obtained by law enforcement or commonwealth’s attorneys,” Moran said. “So this isn’t neighbor against neighbor, or ex-spouse, those situations.”

Moran added that after 14 days, the issue is referred to a circuit judge, who would hear the case and decide how to move forward. “We addressed due process,” he said.

Northam’s budget includes $3.6 million and 10 Virginia State Police positions over two years to implement the law and other related bills.

Moran said that despite high tensions over gun control, the administration is “optimistic” about enacting its package.

“We expect these bills to pass,” he said. “Clearly, the opposition to these bills expect them to pass; otherwise, you wouldn’t have the sanctuary movements sprouting in the commonwealth.”

The Virginia Citizens Defense League says 125 counties, cities and towns in Virginia have backed “Second Amendment sanctuary” resolutions in which local government leaders pledge not to enforce gun laws they deem unconstitutional. Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring says such resolutions have no legal force.

The Northam-backed legislative package also includes:

  • Legislation filed by Del. Ken Plum, D-Fairfax, and Sen. Louise Lucas, D-Portsmouth, calling for universal background checks. Right now, only federally licensed firearms dealers have to conduct background checks.
  • Legislation by Del. Mike Mullin, D-Newport News, and Sen. Janet Howell, D-Fairfax, would ban people with a restraining order against them from possessing a firearm.
  • The restoration of the one-handgun-a-month law that was repealed in 2012, with legislation filed by Del. Jeion Ward and Sen. Mamie Locke, both Democrats from Hampton.
  • A proposal to require the reporting of lost and stolen firearms subject to a civil penalty as high as $250, filed by Del. Jeff Bourne and Sen. Jennifer McClellan, both Democrats from Richmond.
  • Legislation that would subject anyone who “recklessly” leaves a loaded, unsecured firearm near anyone under 18 to a Class 6 felony. Howell and Del. Cliff Hayes, D-Chesapeake, will carry that legislation.
  • Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, and Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, will sponsor legislation to allow local governments to regulate firearms in their jurisdictions. It also would repeal a law that bans localities from suing gun manufacturers and dealers.

mleonor@timesdispatch.com

(804) 649-6254

Twitter: @MelLeonor_

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