The dozens of bills pose a test for Youngkin, who defended Second Amendment rights in his 2021 race for governor but declined to take a National Rifle Association candidate survey that most Republicans tout proudly as he tried to woo the red base of the party as well as purple suburbs. Now Youngkin is looking to Democrats to support plans for a sports and entertainment arena in Alexandria — a project that could be a major part of his legacy as governor.
“I’m certainly hoping that in the context of us getting through this legislative session that we can find a way to get the governor to ‘yes’ on keeping the community safe,” said Del. Dan Helmer (D-Fairfax), who has sponsored some of the toughest gun-control measures, including a proposed ban on assault weapons that passed the House. But he added that he believes the bills are worth passing regardless of their prospects with Youngkin.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a group that lobbies the General Assembly to block any form of gun control, has raised alarms among its members about the legislation.
“It is absolutely an all-out war,” its president, Philip Van Cleave, said in a recent email to the group and the news media. “I’ve never seen anything like this in all the years I have been lobbying for VCDL.” He estimated that 47 gun-control bills could wind up on Youngkin’s desk, even more than there were three years ago when Democrats could expect support from Gov. Ralph Northam (D).
A few of the measures have received bipartisan support, although in most cases not the two-thirds majority needed to overcome a veto from the governor.
“There’s lots of things [Youngkin] hasn’t really taken a position on,” Sen. R. Creigh Deeds (D-Charlottesville), who sponsored the Senate version of the assault-weapons ban, said Thursday in an interview. “I would probably prefer that we just send him a few bills that are probably the most popular. But we’re sending him a lot and we’ll see.”
The bills still have a ways to go. Each chamber of the General Assembly must consider those passed by the other chamber and reconcile any differences before sending the measures to Youngkin.
Here are highlights of some of the more high-profile gun-control bills:
• Assault weapons ban. The House and the Senate have passed on party-line votes measures that would ban assault weapons. Sponsored by Helmer, the House version passed 51-49. The Senate bill, brought by Deeds, passed 21-19. Both bills would prohibit the sale of any assault weapon manufactured after July 1, 2024. That’s different from past failed attempts at assault-weapons bans that did not grandfather weapons already in private hands and had even some Democrats concerned about the state confiscating legally purchased weapons. Both measures would prohibit anyone younger than 21 from buying or possessing an assault weapon, regardless of when the firearm was made, and both would ban high-capacity ammunition feeding devices.
• “Assault firearms” age requirement. On Thursday, the House voted 51-46 to pass a bill sponsored by Del. Mark D. Sickles (D-Fairfax) that would ban the sale of “assault firearms,” which in Virginia includes semiautomatic center-firing rifles, to anyone younger than 21. Three delegates were absent, and one Republican — Del. Carrie E. Coyner (Chesterfield) — joined all Democrats in supporting the measure.
Sickles noted that federal law prohibits handguns from being sold to anyone younger than 21, and said his bill would simply bring such weapons into alignment with that.
Sickles cast his bill as a public safety measure, citing a series of mass shootings carried out with legally purchased firearms by killers younger than 21 — including at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla.; Robb Elementary in Uvalde, Tex.; and Sandy Hook Elementary in Newtown, Conn.
“We have a public emergency, a crisis on our hands. This is one way that we can help solve it,” Sickles said Wednesday during a preliminary debate about the bill. He added that it would be a backup measure in the event that Youngkin vetoes the assault-weapons ban.
• Assault weapons in public. The Senate passed a bill, brought by Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria), that would prohibit the carrying of semiautomatic weapons in public, except for lawful hunting or recreational shooting at a range. It passed on a party-line vote of 21-19. A similar House bill has come out of committee but has not reached the House floor.
• “Auto sears” devices. With bipartisan support, the House and the Senate voted on legislation that would ban “auto sears” — devices that can convert a semiautomatic firearm into a fully automatic weapon that can rapidly spray a full clip of bullets with little control or aim.
An auto-sears ban sponsored by Del. Michael J. Jones (D-Richmond) passed the House unanimously without debate. Senate Republicans took a dimmer view of a ban, but seven of them, including Minority Leader Ryan T. McDougle (Hanover), joined Democrats to pass the version sponsored by Sen. Russet W. Perry (D-Loudoun) on a 28-12 vote.
• Parental notification. Another bill that won at least a little bipartisan support in both chambers would require school systems to send out a reminder to parents about the need to store firearms safely, out of the reach of children. The version sponsored by Del. Laura Jane Cohen (D-Fairfax) passed the House 54-45, with three Republicans joining every Democrat in supporting it and one Republican not voting. The version sponsored by Sen. Stella G. Pekarsky (D-Fairfax) passed the Senate 23-16, with two Republicans in favor.
• Tax credits. A bill sponsored by Del. Nadarius Clark (D-Suffolk) that would expand the list of firearm safety devices eligible for a tax credit also passed Thursday with bipartisan support, 73-25.
• “Ghost guns.” One House Republican — Coyner — joined every Democrat in supporting a bill sponsored by Del. Marcus B. Simon (D-Fairfax) that would prohibit the sale or possession of “ghost guns,” weapons that have no serial number and are often made of plastic or other parts that can pass through metal detectors. The Senate version, proposed by Ebbin, passed on a party-line vote of 21-19.
• Serial numbers. The Senate passed another Ebbin-sponsored bill that would outlaw removing or changing serial numbers on firearms as well as possessing or selling firearms that have been altered in that manner. It passed the Senate on a party-line vote of 21-19.
• Waiting period. The Senate passed a bill that would require a five-day waiting period before someone can buy a gun. Supporters said the measure, sponsored by Sen. Suhas Subramanyam (D-Loudoun), would reduce suicides and crimes of passion by creating a cooling-off period. Republicans said it would endanger victims of domestic violence who might need a gun in a hurry for self-defense. It passed on a party-line vote of 21-19. A similar House bill has advanced from committees but not yet come to a full vote.
• Firearms competency or training. On another party-line vote of 21-19, the Senate passed a bill that would require that anyone seeking to buy a firearm first demonstrate competency with the weapon or offer proof of completing a firearms training course in the previous five years. The measure was sponsored by Sen. Angelia Williams Graves (D-Norfolk).
• Gun storage. The Senate passed a bill that would require that firearms be stored in a locked container in any residence where a minor or someone prohibited from possessing a firearm is present. The firearm may be stored loaded only if the container is secured with a biometric lock, such as those requiring a fingerprint scan, that the minor or prohibited person cannot open. That bill, sponsored by Sen. Jennifer B. Boysko (D-Fairfax), passed on a party-line vote of 21-19. A House version passed on a party-line vote of 51-49.
• Guns in vehicles. Leaving a handgun visible inside an unattended motor vehicle would be prohibited under a bill that passed the Senate on a party-line vote of 21-19. Violators would be subject to a maximum civil penalty of $500 under the measure, brought by Sen. David W. Marsden (D-Fairfax). A House version passed Thursday on a vote of 51-46.
• Guns and restaurants. The Senate passed a bill, sponsored by Sen. Saddam Azlan Salim (D-Fairfax), that would prohibit carrying concealed weapons in restaurants or clubs serving alcohol. The restriction would not apply to law enforcement. Current law allows concealed handguns at those locations as long as the armed person does not drink alcohol there. It passed the Senate 20-18, with one Republican and one Democrat not voting.
• Handgun license. The House deferred a bill sponsored by Del. Patrick A. Hope (D-Arlington) that would have required a license for any firearm purchase, one of the most sweeping proposals of the session. A committee rolled that measure over to next year for further study.