Gun rights supporters celebrate, restriction advocates frustrated after bill fails in Virginia legislature

Bill on assault weapons restrictions, magazine size limits tabled until next year

Gun-rights supporters scored a major win Monday.

A bill aimed at regulating assault weapons in Virginia was shot down in the state legislature.

The Senate Judiciary Committee voted 10-5 to kill House Bill 961. Considered the most controversial gun bill of the session, it would have restricted certain rifles, including the popular AR-15, and banned certain magazines, including ones that hold more than 12 rounds.

Four Democrats joined Republicans in a vote to shelve discussion until next year. In the meantime, the State Crime Commission has been asked to study the issue.

The decision came less than a week after the House of Delegates passed the bill 51-48.

The topic is personal for Roanoke County resident Bryan Thornhill.

“I’m thrilled. We’re probably going to have a party this weekend,” he said.

The local business owner considers himself a gun enthusiast. He feared the assault weapons restrictions, even making plans to move out of state.

He feels the law wouldn’t have helped solve the problem of gun violence.

“We keep trying to restrict the law-abiding citizen for the few that aren’t law abiding,” he said. “If they’re not law-abiding, then what is the law going to do for the non-law-abiding citizen?”

Gun stores like SafeSide Tactical are happy, saying the bill would have had a big, negative impact on sales.

There was applause from gun rights supporters when the vote came down in Richmond, but there’s frustration from the bill’s supporters, like Peter Reed, who spoke in the committee meeting about the death of his daughter in the 2007 Virginia Tech mass shooting.

“This bill does not infringe on anyone’s rights. It is a matter of life and death for these families and these victims,” Reed said.

Roanoke resident Catherine Koebel, whose father was teaching there during the shooting, says the 2007 incident is a major reason why she’s pushing for magazine-size restrictions. She’s disappointed in Monday’s result, and feels Democratic Sen. John Edwards, who represents Roanoke, went against his word in voting down the bill.

“My dad’s classroom was full of bullet holes and dead student bodies, so it was really damn important to me, and John Edwards lied,” Koebel said.

She showed 10 News a survey she says Edwards completed this summer for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, in which he pledges to back assault weapons restrictions.

Edwards’ office didn’t return a request for comment from 10 News before this story was posted, but many Senate Democrats have said they feared this bill would affect too many gun owners.

A spokesperson for Gov. Ralph Northam said he's disappointed with the result but determined to continue to press for the measure.

Now Virginians will have to wait until next year for the next chapter in the debate over the most controversial piece of gun legislation in the commonwealth.

Five of the governor’s eight gun control measures are expected to pass this session, including:

  • Requiring universal background checks
  • Limiting handgun purchases to one a month
  • Letting localities ban guns in public places
  • Installing a red flag bill, which would allow officers to take guns away from someone determined to be a threat to themselves or others

Along with the assault weapons restrictions, the bills shot down include:

  • Increasing penalties for leaving guns unsecured around children
  • Requiring owners report lost or stolen guns

About the Author: