Push to ban assault weapons in Virginia meets resistance

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Clerk of the Virginia House of Delegates walks through a magnetometer as her belongings are screened as she arrives at the during the Capitol in Richmond, Va., Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. Legislators adopted several rules relating to carrying weapons in State Buildings last week. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

RICHMOND, VA – 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.