Northam signs landmark gun-control bills, recommends tweaks to two others

Gov. Ralph Northam
Gov. Ralph Northam

Gov. Ralph Northam announced Friday that he has signed several major gun-control bills into law, a final step Democrats hailed as a historic breakthrough on one of Virginia’s most contentious political issues.

The legislation will impose universal background checks on gun sales, create extreme risk protective orders that allow authorities to temporarily seize guns from people deemed dangerous, require gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms, restore the former one-handgun-a-month law and boost penalties for leaving guns accessible to children.

“We lose too many Virginians to gun violence, and it is past time we took bold, meaningful action to make our communities safer,” Northam said in a news release. “I was proud to work with legislators and advocates on these measures, and I am proud to sign them into law. These commonsense laws will save lives.”

The push for stricter gun laws became a high-profile campaign issue last year as Democrats successfully pushed to flip control of the General Assembly, winning full legislative control for the first time in decades. With Democrats in charge, conservative-leaning counties across Virginia rushed to pass resolutions declaring themselves gun sanctuaries and an estimated 20,000 gun-rights activists rallied at the Capitol in January against the proposed legislation.

One of the most far-reaching proposals — a ban on assault-style weapons — passed the House of Delegates but failed in the state Senate after moderate Democrats said the legislature needed more time to carefully define what an assault weapon is and figure out what to do about weapons Virginians already own.

“I will not stop and that legislation will be introduced again,” Northam said during a press call with gun-control advocates Friday morning.

Northam recommended seemingly minor amendments to two other gun bills, changes that the General Assembly will take up during the April 22 reconvened session.

With a bill giving local governments more power to ban guns in public spaces, Northam recommended changes to “clarify” an exemption for higher education meant to protect college shooting clubs, teams and courses, according to the governor’s office.

Northam also recommended strengthening a bill stripping gun rights from people subject to permanent protective orders for domestic violence. The governor is suggesting allowing courts to hold people in contempt of court if they fail to prove they have given up their firearms.

The new gun laws will go into effect July 1.