RICHMOND, VA – Democratic presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg voiced strong support Tuesday for enacting new gun regulations in Virginia a few months after groups he backs spent millions of dollars helping Democrats win full control of state government.
But the former New York City mayor said confiscating the military-style assault rifles already in circulation would be unworkable. And Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam said he has no plans to confiscate guns or cut electricity to gun owners who refuse, responding to what he called “misinformation” spreading online about his gun control plans.
“Nobody's trying to take away anybody's handguns ... or rifles or shotguns,” Bloomberg said. “What we're trying to do is have sensible gun regulations.”
The men's comments Tuesday at separate news conferences came as Virginia's new Democratic legislative majority prepares to take up a series of gun control measures that has prompted massive pushback.
Gun owners are descending on local government offices to demand that officials 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.
The National Rifle Association has placed an ad on an interstate billboard in Richmond warning of a “Northam/Bloomberg Confiscation Plan." The group has a “confiscation” countdown timer linked to the start of the legislative session on its website.
“Gun confiscation is central to the Bloomberg-Northam gun control scheme. When you make commonly owned firearms illegal, that is the very definition of confiscation," NRA spokeswoman Catherine Mortensen said.
The Second Amendment sanctuary movement began after Democrats promising new gun control laws won control over both chambers of the state legislature in the Nov. 5 election.
Gun control proposals gained momentum after a shooter killed 12 people and injured four others at a Virginia Beach municipal building in May. But a special legislative session called by Northam after the mass shooting failed to produce any new gun control bills when Republicans shut it down after just 90 minutes.
Gun control advocates are now proposing an array of new restrictions, including universal background checks and red flag laws that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from people deemed dangerous to themselves or others.
Gun control and clean-energy groups affiliated with Bloomberg spent several million dollars helping Democrats win in November. The billionaire businessman came to Richmond to tout his involvement in helping flip Virginia blue and to promote his presidential bid.
Bloomberg said the NRA's attacks against him showed that “we're getting through.”
The debate on gun control in Virginia and around the country has focused in particular on assault-style rifles like AR-15s that have been used in mass shootings. Some initial pieces of Virginia legislation filed by Democrats that would outlaw AR-15-style rifles have not included any “grandfather” clauses allowing current owners of the popular rifle to keep them.
But Northam and other top Democrats in Virginia have said they don't want to confiscate guns. And Bloomberg said Tuesday such a plan isn't feasible.
“It's probably impossible to get all of those back. One can only hope that when people see the damage they can cause, and the danger of having them in their houses, they'll decide to just take them to the local police station and say, ‘Please, get rid of this,’" Bloomberg said.
Around the time that Bloomberg was speaking Tuesday morning, Northam and state Democratic legislative leaders held their own press conference to outline their top priorities for the session that opens Wednesday.
The governor used his speech to rebut what he called “misinformation” that has spread about gun control measures newly empowered Democrats have pledged will pass.
“We have no intention of calling out the National Guard. We’re not going to cut off people’s electricity. We’re not going to go door to door and confiscate individuals’ weapons,” Northam said.
His comments came after The Washington Post published a story earlier in the week highlighting some of the rumors being spread by far-right websites and commentators, including a blog post that claimed Northam planned to cut electricity, phones and internet to thwart gun supporters.
“Saying things like that we’re going to cut off people’s electricity — I don’t know where things like that come from but they’re intimidating, they provoke fear, they’re not necessary.”
Associated Press writer Denise Lavoie contributed to this report.