Virginia’s Democrat-controlled Senate last January rejected Northam’s bill to ban assault weapons and voted to take up the matter again in a year.
Nearly one year later, Northam, whose term expires in 2022, told WRIC on Monday that he’ll leave the decision to revisit a gun ban “up to the discretion of the legislature.”
“Whatever they do, I’ll be supportive of,” Northam said.
Northam called the proposed assault weapons ban “a campaign promise” that “a lot” of Democrats ran on.
“I think it was a large reason why the House switched from Republican control to Democratic control,” he said. “That one bill on assault weapons didn’t move forward, but six other pieces of legislation did and I think because of that Virginia is a safer state.”
The Virginia governor signed a series of new gun laws in April targeting background check expansions, a cap on handgun sales, “red flag” laws, penalties for adults who allow children to handle firearms and rules for residents reporting stolen guns.
Starting on New Year’s Day, Virginia will also require in-person training for concealed carry permits.
State Del. Mark Levine also told WRIC that he and other Virginia Democrats likely will not reintroduce an assault weapons ban in 2021, blaming a shortened legislative season that will be mostly virtual.
“Most of the session will be devoted to things that are less controversial. That doesn’t mean I’ve given up fighting for this cause,” Levine told WRIC in a Tuesday interview. “The goal is to stop making it really easy to commit mass murder.”
Two trends that have occurred in Virginia this year do not appear to correlate with the new gun laws: an uptick in gun violence in the state’s biggest cities and record-high, legal gun sales.
Many U.S. cities dealt with surges in violent crime over the summer, despite lockdowns keeping people inside. Some Virginia police departments have also taken notice of the trend in their own cities.
Roanoke Police Chief Sam Roman described an “uptick” in gun violence in a Dec. 11 interview with WDBJ as not only a local problem but also a national one. More than 60% of gun violence is coming from gangs, the outlet reported, citing the Roanoke-based Study Committee to Reduce Gun Violence.
Petersberg police Chief Travis Christian also described an “uptick in…gun violence and gunplay” in the city south of Richmond in a Dec. 18 interview with WWBT.
“It’s been a busy time for us,” Christian said. “If you’ve noticed one too many shootings in Petersburg lately, police have to. We’re focused right now on what we’re seeing, the uptick in some of our gun violence and gunplay that’s occurring in our city.”
Richmond Police Chief Gerald Smith expressed similar concerns, telling WRIC in October that homicides rose 60% in the third quarter of 2020, and he previously told the outlet that many shooters are under 21 years old.
Smaller cities like Danville, however, have reported a decrease in violent crime, according to WSLS.
Legal gun sales have also surged this year. The Virginia Firearms Transaction Center conducted 716,563 background checks in 2020 as of Dec. 18 compared to its previous record of 505,722 background checks in 2016, WRIC reported.
“I’ve been in the gun industry 40 years and I’ve never seen this before,” Mark Tosh, president of Town Gun Shop Inc., told WRIC. “Nothing comes close.”
This trend also appears to be a national one; the FBI’s background check database shows more than 35.7 million background checks in 2020 compared to 28.3 million in 2019, 26.1 million in 2018, 25.2 million in 2017 and 27.5 million in 2016, which is when the country saw its last largest surge in background checks.
Mark Olivia, director of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation, told WRIC that “people are concerned for their safety, so they are purchasing firearms.”
“We know that by what types of firearms they buy,” he said. “They are buying handguns. Those are not the kind of guns for hunting. It’s for personal defense.”