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Virginia assault weapons ban stalls in state Senate

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A bill that would have banned assault or military-style weapons in Virginia failed to move forward in the state Senate Monday after some Democrats joined with Republicans to vote it down in committee.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-5 to study the impact of HB 961 rather than pass it and will instead revisit the matter next year, according to bill sponsor Del. Mark Levine.

The measure would have banned assault weapons and high capacity magazines (more than 12 rounds), trigger activators that are designed to make weapons fire more rapidly, and silencers. The measure restricted the possession, sale, purchase and transfer of assault weapons.

The vote is a setback for Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat who introduced the legislation as part of a package of eight gun violence prevention measures in a July 2019 special session of the Virginia Assembly following a mass shooting in Virginia Beach.

“While the Governor is disappointed in today’s vote, he fully expects the Crime Commission to give this measure the detailed review that Senators called for. We will be back next year,” Alena Yarmosky, a spokeswoman for Northam, said in an email to CNN.

The bill was passed by the House of Delegates last week before stalling in the Senate.

Seven other gun safety bills, which include a universal background check on certain purchases and transfers of guns, are still in the Senate and are expected to be considered by the end of the session in March.

“Despite today’s vote, the Governor is proud of the several commonsense gun safety measures that continue to advance. These bills represent historic steps forward in keeping Virginians safe from gun violence. Make no mistake — they will save lives,” Yarmosky added.

Democrats took full control of the state government beginning in January, with the hopes of passing a slew of gun restricting measures amid a growing “Second Amendment sanctuary” movement in the state led by the pro-gun group, Virginia Citizens Defense League.

Philipe Van Cleave, president of the VCDL, hailed Monday’s vote as a “victory” for gun rights in the state in a series of social media post following the senate committee vote, saying the bill had been “killed for the year.”

Gun safety advocates, however, such as the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, were “disappointed” by the outcome and vowed to continue pushing for the bill’s passage in next year’s session.

“This was not the outcome we wanted, but they can rest assured that they will hear from us, from advocates and from everyday Virginians in the intervening months about why we need to ban assault weapons in Virginia,” Brady President Kris Brown said in a press release.

“In the meantime, the Judiciary Committee and Virginia Senate must swiftly pass the remaining seven, common-sense gun violence prevention laws before them. We need the action that voters demanded in November,” Brown added.

This story has been updated.

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