RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Some top Virginia Democratic senators are expressing reservations about plans to ban assault weapons — a key part of the new Democratic majority's gun-control proposals and one that's drawn fierce resistance from gun-rights advocates.

“A lot of people don't really understand assault weapons and how complicated the issue really is," said Democratic Sen. John Edwards. “It's going to be very difficult to figure out a way to do it. But we're studying it, that's all I can say.”

He's one of at least four moderate senators — the others are Sens. Chap Petersen, Creigh Deeds and Lynwood Lewis — who are skeptical of plans to ban assault weapons. None of them has ruled out voting for an assault weapon ban, but all have said they aren't impressed with any of the drafts of proposed bans they've seen.

“I've not seen an enforceable bill that makes sense yet,” Deeds said.

Heated debates over guns are set to dominate this year's legislative session. A failure to pass an assault weapon ban would be a blow to Democrats.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Edwards, moved quickly Monday to advance several pieces of gun legislation that a Republican majority has blocked for years. Those bills include limiting handgun purchases to once a month, universal background checks on gun purchases, allowing localities to ban guns in public buildings, parks and other areas, and a red flag bill that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from anyone deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.

But a ban on assault weapons was not put on the docket for debate.

“Well, you can read into that what you want," said Petersen, another Democrat on the committee.

Petersen said that “on paper” he supports an assault weapons ban but said he has concerns about “details that nobody seems to have figured out yet." Those details include like what technically constitutes an assault weapon or what to do with people who already own them.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and Democratic lawmakers have credited their focus on gun control for helping them win full control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than two decades. Guns were a key topic of last year's legislative elections — particularly after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach claimed a dozen lives — and gun-control groups heavily funded Democratic candidates.

A Democratic-led special rules committee voted last week to ban guns from the Capitol and a legislative office building.

Republicans and gun-rights groups are offering stiff resistance. Gun owners are descending on local government offices to demand they establish sanctuaries for gun rights. More than 100 counties, cities and towns have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries and vowed to oppose any new “unconstitutional restrictions” on guns.

Hundreds of pro-gun advocates showed up Monday to protest the gun-control bills heard in the Senate committee.

Some of the most vocal opposition has focused on plans to ban semi-automatic weapons such as the popular AR-15-style rifles. Gun-rights advocates have accused Democrats of wanting to confiscate such rifles from current gun owners. Northam has said he has no interest in doing so.

An estimated 8 million AR-style guns have been sold since they were introduced to the public in the 1960s. The weapons are known as easy to use, easy to clean and easy to modify with a variety of scopes, stocks and rails.

George Persinger, 65, a custom home builder, drove about three hours Monday to voice his opposition to the proposed assault weapons ban and other gun control laws.

“The AR-15 is a tool. I can use this to go kill feral hogs. I can use this weapon at home. I can use it to protect myself and my family. My wife can shoot this, my kids can shoot this,” he said.

Edwards noted the popularity and widespread availability of AR-style rifles, saying that makes debates about outlawing them difficult.

“I don't know how you ban them all of a sudden," he said.

Democrats have a slim 21-19 majority in the state senate, giving them little margin to lose members on key votes like an assault weapons ban. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat, casts votes in cases of a tie.

Gun control is only one part of an enormous agenda lawmakers are tackling this year. They have less than 60 days to get everything passed.


Associated Press reporter Denise Lavoie contributed to this report.

Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

(36) comments

Gene Ralno

“Assault weapon” is another go-to-term that grabbers and confiscators use instead of semi-automatic rifle. It’s brilliant for public relations and incendiary to owners of firearms. Nobody says, “That gun assaults.” Literate persons say, “That person assaults.” Assault is a verb or noun that applies to people and actions, not an adjective that applies to inanimate objects. The term is wrong in many ways, but psychologically, it is powerful. If you ever hear someone use this expression, hide your guns.

Use of the term "assault weapon" has become one of several mainstays of the democrat flimflam because it narrows the focus to fit the objective. The objective of course is to disarm the American public. Think about it. Have you ever heard the term "retreat weapon" used by a politician or anyone else?

No? Then ask yourself why the democrat party doesn't focus on just assaults instead of assault weapons. Fact is they're after weapons, not assaults. They couldn't care less about the entire field of assaults because it commingles criminals with peaceable, lawful citizens and deflects from their intended focus on citizens.

By U.S. Army definition, it’s a selective-fire rifle chambered for a cartridge of intermediate power. “If applied to any semi-automatic firearm regardless of its cosmetic similarity to a true assault rifle, the term is incorrect.” For what it's worth, murders committed in 2018 by all types of rifles combined, dropped by 23.9 percent. According to the FBI, out of 14,123 homicides, only 297 (2.1%) were committed by rifles, less than by knives (11%), hands, fists and feet (5%) and blunt objects (3%).

Democrats hope to transform firearms owners into dependents. Once they're dependent on the government, democrats will choose which of them they'll allow to own firearms. Unfortunately, that privilege will be reserved for party bosses. Democrats want citizens to believe making the U.S. safer for criminals will make it safer for their victims. Ask yourself, do you believe being disarmed makes you safer? What kind of political leader would disarm his people while howling about the peril they face?

Jeanne T

Well said.


Assault weapons are just the weapon of choice in mass shootings. Your statements are straight from the NRA handbook. Go ahead and defend those weapons based on English terminology, that still won’t change the fact that they can wipeout many people at one time. Hide your guns is also a NRA mantra along with “they are gong to take all your guns”. So much BS. They said that the whole 8 years of Obama, did he ever try to take your guns? Hell no, how many people use the term ‘retreat weapon’, they use ‘stand your ground’ There is no objective to disarm the American public, democrats own guns too. It is about public safety; do you think all the students protesting about guns have a political party? Most aren’t old enough to vote. The reason there is a focus on assault weapons is because they do so much damage and maiming in a short time. If you watch the news assaults are reported every night, most don’t harm 30 or more people.

The public is not the military, give a definition that is used by the public. Look at your stats. How many of those shooting happened in 1 incident? That is what happens with an assault weapon.

You have some wild conspiracy theories on Dems, and post them as fact. Being a Dem I can tell you that your statements are nothing but hype made up by the right.


Jeanne, where do you get this stuff? Outdoor ranges would NOT need to be on government property and it only prohibits indoor shooting ranges in any building not owned or leased by the Commonwealth or federal government, unless the range has fewer than 50 employees working in the building or at least 90 percent of the users are law-enforcement. Do you know what ranges that would affect? You worry about inner city gun violence but there is nothing that takes away your right to own a gun. That gun can be used for protection. If you think differently please educate me on what law there is.

Why did you put “debbbie" on your post, was that suppose to be derogatory? It’s her name. I bet “debbbie" could just go to an outdoor range. And very few people hut with an AR-15 unless it is in single shot mode or they want mincemeat.

The Second Amendment has nothing to do with hunting, it has to do with protection. Back then it was from a British invasion. It has to do with militias, which legally answer to the states and the president. It is known today as the National Guard.

Background checks can tell f you have mental problems that have been reported by a trained physician. That is not on a police check. It can tell you if someone has been banned from owning a gun in another state. No one is going to talk to your neighbors, that just sound paranoid.

Those who put "Protected by Smith & Wesson" (or similar) stickers on their door" are protected by freedom of speech. I wouldn’t knock on their door. And NO not ‘everyone should be armed in this country if they want to be’. What about convicted criminals who have violent felonies? What about the spouse who has threatened to kill their spouse? What about someone who is suicidal or mentally ill with delusions of killing off mass amounts of people?? Who would ever say that the second amendment is a ‘doomsday provision of the Constitution’ that is BS. Think about when it was written and it is not the CORE CONCEPT of America, the constitution is. That fluke Battle of Athens, TN you talk about was just that. A fluke. There are laws to protect against that type of thing now and government agencies that would administer those laws.

The entire statement ‘Without the Second Amendment, there is no America. There would be no America. Removing and/or infringing on gun rights only ensures that a dictator will have no one shooting back at him (or her), and make no mistake, they intend to do things to us for which we would shoot them.’ Sounds like the ranting of a delusional paranoid. We live in a democracy not a dictatorship.

Jeanne T

Well, that was a mouthful! LOL

Gene Ralno

The term "militia" refers to peaceable, lawfully armed people, free individuals. They aren't reservists, national or state guardsmen, inactive military or any other organized group. They're civilians. How do we know? The founders would have had no reason to affirm this natural human right to military people. It would have made no sense.

The military already was and is under complete control of the government. The government owned and controlled the arsenals, ammunition stores and most of the arms. The government also directed their use. To affirm a soldier’s right to keep and bear arms is unnecessary and absurd, much like affirming the right to wear an issued uniform.

For what it's worth, Vermont’s Constitution (1793) states, “…people have a right to bear arms for the defence of themselves and the State.” And the Connecticut Constitution (December 30, 1965) says, simply, “Every citizen has a right to bear arms in defense of himself and the state.”


10 U.S. Code § 246.Militia: composition and classes. The militia of the United States consists of all able-bodied males at least 17 years of age and, except as provided in section 313 of title 32, under 45 years of age who are, or who have made a declaration of intention to become, citizens of the United States and of female citizens of the United States who are members of the National Guard.

(b)The classes of the militia are—

(1)the organized militia, which consists of the National Guard and the Naval Militia; and

(2)the unorganized militia, which consists of the members of the militia who are not members of the National Guard or the Naval Militia.The US Congress is granted the power to use the militia of the United States for three specific missions, as described in Article 1, section 8, clause 15: "To provide for the calling of the militia to execute the laws of the Union, suppress insurrections, and repel invasions."


Any one who believes the ultimate goal is not confiscation, explain why they want to get rid of gun ranges and a piecemeal elimination of firearms. The first action of a Dictator is removal of citizens firearms. Unless you want your children to be Government slaves - Wake Up!


Another repeat of the NRA conspiracy theory. Don't you know that Dems own guns too? This is nothing but fear mongering and you're falling for it. Look at the picture above people with saying implying that all their weapons will be taken and they can't protect themselves. That is just the NRA mantra working because nobody wants to take all your guns away. Show me 1 or any law or proposal that states that.


Those who believe this only affects semi-automatic rifles need to take the time and look at HB961. It clearly states that also impacted are semi-automatic handguns. The way the law is drafted that includes nearly every handgun manufactured. The bill limits magazines to 10 rounds and makes it a felony to own any magazines that can hold greater than that amount. It seems unconstitutional in that this in essence results in seizure of property without compensation in order for law abiding citizens to comply. Who does that hurt most, well not the middle class or wealthy as they can afford to buy lower capacity magazines but it does impact those of less means and people of color. Even in the case of eminent domain government must compensate you for property that is seized. Why not in this case? How was the 10 round limit set? It seems arbitrary. Maybe the next session will reduce it to 6 rounds, and the one after that to one round. Guess they will then try to ban single action rifles and musket loaders.

The problem is not the gun but the irresponsible and criminal use of a gun. Why doesn't the legislature focus on the real problem. Increase funds for mental health, relax the privacy laws so that teachers, doctors, health care workers can report aberrant or suspected behavior without fear of a lawsuit, make those who are irresponsible subject to higher penalties. All the gun owners I know secure their weapons to ensure children or unauthorized persons don't get them. Maybe the penalty for allowing a weapon to be accessed and used in a crime should have a bigger impact on the person allowing unauthorized access.

Responsible gun owners are NOT the problem. This legislation will not address the problem.


HB961 wants to prohibit sale, transport, etc., of assault firearms, certain firearm magazines, silencers, and trigger activators, and that any person who legally owns an assault firearm on July 1, 2020, may retain possession of such assault firearm after January 1, 2021, if such person has obtained a permit from the Department of State Police to possess an assault firearm in accordance with procedures established in the bill. It does not, as you say impacted semi-automatic handguns it would be a Class 6 felony to import, sell, transfer, manufacture, purchase, possess, or transport large-capacity firearm magazines, silencers, and trigger activators, the type of things used is mass shootings. So what is the problem with 10 rounds? It seems if you are a good shot and aren't so lazy that you don't want to reload that 10 shots should be plenty. But if there is someone attacking a crowd of people it would be safer than letting the shooter have an unlimited amount of ammo for his attack. Yes, the problem is not the gun but the irresponsible and criminal use of a gun, but that has become a daily occurrence now and it's time to deal with the problem. There is no reason to justify having more than 1 mass shooting a day in a country as great as ours.


Elections have consequences...

Jeanne T

I have yet to see any of the conversations about these gun control proposals focus on the nexus that is the source of the great majority of gun-related crime. Now, we all know that this nexus is not in rural areas, where citizens have shotguns and hunting rifles. And we all know that it is not in the suburbs, where citizens have defense rifles and handguns (and where many LEOs have family and friends).

No, the source of the greater majority of gun-related crime is the inner cities (all controlled by Democrats), and the Saturday night specials used in those crimes. AND WE ALL KNOW IT. That would be where sincere gun-grabbers whose TRUE concern was reducing illegal gun violence would be starting.


suicides are much more likely when a gun is involved (than other types of methods/attempts). rural areas statistically have substantial higher suicide rates. those suffering from PTSD, depression or other mental illness mixed with a gun in the home can be a recipe for a tragic ending. not only for the victim, but for the families and friends who will be deeply and forever impacted. gun deaths are gun deaths. in addition, just because a shooting may occur in a urban area, doesn't mean the shooter arrived from an urban area. as a gun owner myself, i have zero issues with the proposed laws, which do not infringe on any of my 2nd amend rights. living in a safer and healthier community is what kind of future i hope for all of us and i believe the vast majority of folks in VA want the same.

Jeanne T

Do you go to a shooting range to practice, in order to be a "responsible" gun owner? If so, how will the proposals concerning shooting ranges likely to affect your ability to frequent these ranges. Have you read those proposals, "debbbie"?


so why fear background checks and banning assault rifles? Sportsmen and women don't hunt with AR15s and they are not the weapon of choice for self defense (have you ever tried to conceal-carry an ar15?) If you are not a criminal, what is the hesitancy about background checks? To your last points: we do have cities in Virginia, but state laws govern guns.

Jeanne T

" Sportsmen and women don't hunt with AR15s"

Um, yes they do. But the Second Amendment has nothing to do with hunting.

As for background checks, what will these involve that isn't revealed in a police check? What does the application form look like? We haven't seen, and they haven't told us. What would a background check be looking for other than a clean police record? Will one be required to provide references? Will those doing the background checks talk to your neighbors (who may not like you)? Will medical records be accessed?

Tell us. Do you know?


So, if society can't place ANY limits on weapon ownership, am I entitled to own a nuclear weapon? antitank missile? How about fissionable material?

Scenario: I could just non (initially) lethal shoot an intruder with a radioactive dust load cartridge. He/she would likely survive in the short-term but what a long, agonizing, exceedingly painful and irreversible crawl towards death they would suffer. Like those who put "Protected by Smith & Wesson" (or similar) stickers on their door I could simply put the radioactive symbol on mine and claim the act was in "self-defense."

Point: the Supreme Court has long recognized the right of society to establish limits on constitutional rights in order to maintain a peaceful and orderly society.

What don't the 2nd amendment absolutists understand about that?


There are limits on "weapon ownership." It's called the National Firearms Act, established in 1939, which makes automatic weapons and sawed-off shotguns illegal. Certain items, such as short-barreled rifles and suppressors, are regulated to the point where they require extensive background checks through the ATF, establishment of a trust, and a $200.00 fee, on top of a year-long wait to obtain said items. Unfortunately for you, the NFA does not allow applications for a "radioactive dust load cartridge." Sorry. Maybe you should just get that sticker and hope for the best.

Jeanne T

Are the Second Amendment supporters showing up at all these hearings proclaiming their right to own nuclear weapons anti-tank missiles, or fissionable material?

"Like those who put "Protected by Smith & Wesson" (or similar) stickers on their door"

Does that frighten you? Should someone who puts such a sticker on their door be red-flagged for doing so, if it causes fear?


Clearly no one is advocating for the ownership of nuclear weapons, but we have as a society accepted that some limits on the ownership of weapons is allowable, and the Heller case reiterated that the 2nd amendment is not violated by these limitations.

So what exactly are you arguing for? What is your proposal?


You want limits? Then put them through Article V of the Constitution via the lawful amendment process. Anything else is unconstitutional. Your laws, resolutions, statutes, dreams, hopes and aspirations do not override the second amendment. Got it?

"The Congress, whenever two thirds of both Houses shall deem it necessary, shall propose Amendments to this Constitution, or, on the Application of the Legislatures of two thirds of the several States, shall call a Convention for proposing Amendments, which, in either Case, shall be valid to all Intents and Purposes, as Part of this Constitution, when ratified by the Legislatures of three fourths of the several States, or by Conventions in three fourths thereof, as the one or the other Mode of Ratification may be proposed by the Congress; Provided that no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article; and that no State, without its Consent, shall be deprived of its equal Suffrage in the Senate."


It wasn't the promise of Gun control that got Democrats elected, it was Bloomberg money. $1,500,000.00+ for Gov., 1,000,000.00 for AG and another 4,000,000.00 plus, for Sens and Delegates. What do you call a person who takes an oath to support and defend both US and State Constitutions, then does everything they can to subvert them?? (No it is not a Republican)


You can trot out Bloomberg or bring back out the Soros boogeyman, but the fact is that people voted to put the Democrats in control. Bloomberg didn't even get a vote! Elections have consequences and years of consistently fighting against even the smallest gun control legislation has consequences.


I guess this is what happens when you try to take away the rights of Americans....the 2nd amendment was there for a reason and everyone should be armed in this country if they want to be....let freedom ring....

Jeanne T


The Second Amendment is there in case they forget all the others. It is the doomsday provision of the Constitution.

Let that sink in.

Jeanne T

The Second Amendment is also the CORE CONCEPT of America. It exists as a check on government tyranny. The Battle of Athens, TN (1946) is a case in point. Look it up.

Without the Second Amendment, there is no America. There would be no America. Removing and/or infringing on gun rights only ensures that a dictator will have no one shooting back at him (or her), and make no mistake, they intend to do things to us for which we would shoot them. This is the real reason, in a nutshell.


Given your view of the Second Amendment, do you see any restrictions on arms (not just small arms) being compatible with the Second Amendment? Should the citizens be able to have arms equivalent or near equivalent to the government? In your vision of the citizenry rising up to stop a tyrannical government, should the citizens be allowed to have arms that would give it a realistic chance to defeat the government? Or just small arms enough to perform guerrilla type actions?


Do I have this right? You have the right not to be a victim so you should be in favor of letting most anybody walk around with an assault weapon? Reminds me of someone who likes to take a drink now and then saying we should get rid of drunk driving laws because a return to prohibition is the next logical step down that slippery slope. What nonsense.

Jeanne T

"Do I have this right?"

What right are you referencing? The right to defend yourself? Your comments are illogical. And what is the definition of an "assault weapon"? Are you referring to a certain class of firearms? Or any firearm, just because it's a firearm? Or anything which could be used as a weapon to assault another person, because there are many things which could be used for such a purpose.

Jeanne T

So your "right" to not be a vicitm begins with the inherent right to defend yourself. If you cannot defend yourself, your family, and others, you will be a victim, whether from criminals or criminal governments. And the right to self defense does not come from the Government.


Hopefully Democrats won't eat their own in an attempt to pass a meaningless set of laws. It's nice to see that at least some of them are asking the right questions about what they're trying to do.

The obvious alternative to all of this is that they could just put a 2000% tax on all ammunition and reloading materials sold (or shipped in) and absolutely destroy the shooting industry in the Commonwealth.

Jeanne T

They are, in fact, attempting to destroy the shooing industry. For starters, the new proposals restrict most gun owners from frequenting shooting ranges; shooting ranges must be on government property while at the same time continually lecturing us that gun owners should be "responsible" and learn how to properly use and store their firearms (most already are).


Until the focus shifts from "gun control" to what really matters, "school safety" or "gun safety", the only thing that is going to happen is a new law to ban certain types of weapons will be passed with only Democrat votes that will eventually be challenged as unconstiutional.

See the 2008 Heller vs. DC if you need an example of what will most likely happen to any "gun ban" that comes out of Richmond.


By all means please study up on Heller vs DC. It’s the only time SCOTUS has ruled on the 2A and they left the door wide open for all sorts of rules and regulations with the exception of an outright ban. Try getting a permit to have a handgun in DC. Even if you’re lucky enough to get one the rules of storage and transport... let’s just say that they’re “well regulated”

You’ll be able to buy a rifle. Just not a rifle that shoots 30 rounds in 5 seconds. So sorry.


Too bad when you look at the weapon of choice in mass shootings.

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