RICHMOND — Gov. Ralph Northam (D) is making an aggressive push to revive gun-control proposals that GOP lawmakers killed in last year’s General Assembly session, seizing what he senses to be Democratic momentum as the legislature convenes next week.
Flanked by fellow Democrats from the House of Delegates and state Senate, Northam rolled out a package of bills Friday that would require universal background checks for firearms purchases, ban assault weapons and resurrect individuals’ purchase limits to one handgun per month, among other proposals.
“We lose too many Virginians each year to senseless gun violence, and it is time we take meaningful steps to protect the health and safety of our citizens,” said Northam, a physician. He said the state had 1,028 deaths from firearms last year, more than half of them suicides, compared with 956 deaths from highway accidents.
Northam supported a similar slate of legislation last year, and Republicans who control the legislature buried almost all of it on Northam’s first workday as governor — just days after he had taken office in a shower of bipartisan good wishes.
This year, though, Democrats are filled with gusto after making gains in Virginia’s congressional elections in 2018 and nearly erasing the GOP majorities in the General Assembly. Republicans also continue to suffer from Virginians’ dislike of President Trump.
“I hope people come with a different attitude this year,” Northam said. He said he had not yet conferred with GOP leaders on the proposals.
Republicans still hold a 51-to-49 edge in the House and a 21-to-19 advantage in the Senate, but every seat is up for election in the fall and Democrats hope to build on recent gains to take control of one or both chambers
Del. Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax County), who took over last month as minority leader, said she has spoken with Republicans and expects that there will be some common ground this year on gun control.
A spokesman said Republican leadership in the House was focused, for the moment, on proposing tax cuts for the middle class.
“We have yet to evaluate Governor Northam’s proposals,” Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesman for House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), said via text message. “But as with all legislation that will be introduced for this session it will work its way through the legislative process.”
The bills Northam endorsed Friday covered topics that have failed multiple times before in the GOP-controlled legislature, but sponsors said they’ve been tweaked in ways to help build support.
• The “Extreme Risk Protective Order,” sponsored by Del. Richard C. “Rip” Sullivan Jr. (D-Fairfax) and Sen. George L. Barker (D-Alexandria), which would allow a court to temporarily prohibit someone from access to his firearms if the person has been found to pose a danger to himself or others. In response to concerns raised by Republicans last year that such power could be misused, the proposal specifies that any removal order would have to be brought by law enforcement and approved by a judge or magistrate.
• A bill requiring background checks on all gun sales, including private sales at gun shows or online. The measure is sponsored by Del. Kenneth R. Plum (D-Fairfax) and Sen. L. Louise Lucas (D-Portsmouth).
• A revival of Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month law, which had been in effect for nearly 20 years when it was repealed in 2012. Sponsored by Del. Jeion A. Ward (D-Hampton) and Sen. Mamie E. Locke (D-Hampton), the measure would “prevent people from stockpiling firearms and transporting them for sale in other states,” Northam’s office said.
Other measures would keep guns out of the hands of someone who is under a protective court order; require gun owners to report the loss or theft of a firearm within 24 hours; and increase the penalty for leaving unsecured firearms near children.
Del. Kathy Tran (D-Fairfax) and Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) are also sponsoring a ban on assault weapons, defining them as any firearm with a magazine that holds more than 10 rounds of ammunition.
“I know all too well what weapons of war do to human beings, and we do not need weapons of war on our streets and in our society,” said Northam, who during his eight years as an Army doctor treated soldiers who had been wounded in the Gulf War.
Lori Haas, a prominent gun-control advocate whose daughter was shot but survived the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007, praised Northam for embracing the issue in the aftermath of that tragedy, at a time when she said the stance was “politically toxic” in Virginia.
“We all deserve to live free from gun violence,” she said. She described Northam as “the man to get the job done.”
Virginia, home to the headquarters of the National Rifle Association, has some of the most lax gun laws in the country and is one of the largest suppliers of guns used in crimes on the East Coast.
Most Virginians — 91 percent — support requiring background checks for all gun buyers, according to a June 2017 Quinnipiac University poll. That survey found that 51 percent support stricter gun laws overall and that 48 percent said it’s too easy to buy a gun in Virginia.