RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Newly sworn-in Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's push for stricter gun laws was dealt a swift defeat Monday, with a Republican-led Senate panel blocking legislation to increase background checks and limit guns at public rallies.
The Senate Courts of Justice Committee voted to block legislation that would allow cities and counties to ban firearms at certain public events like the violent white nationalist rally in Charlottesville last summer in which several participants were heavily armed. The committee also voted against a measure that would mandate background checks on all guns bought at gun shows.
Fights over a gun laws are a perennial issue in Virginia's General Assembly, with Republicans favoring less restrictions and Democrats favoring additional ones. But this year's fight comes a few months after a Democratic wave powered by voter dislike of President Donald Trump that saw Northam easily win election and Republicans take heavy losses in the state House. The GOP maintains a slim majority in both chambers.
The legislation's defeat came just two days after Northam's inaugural address, where he exhorted lawmakers to pass stricter gun laws.
After the vote, he told a crowd of gun-control advocates who held a rally on Capitol Square that he was "just getting warmed up" and would continue to press the issue forcefully.
"Don't give up," Northam said. "Continue your hope."
Gun-rights advocates held a similar rally earlier in the day, where Republican politicians urged the crowd to mobilize pro-gun voters in coming elections.
"Are you all familiar with the nice little blue wave that just happened in Virginia?" said U.S. Rep. Dave Brat, who is up for re-election this year. "I'm going to vote for the right stuff, but I won't be voting if you don't go do your legwork and get us hundreds of friends across the board."
Monday was so-called "lobby day" when advocates on both sides of the issue turn out in large numbers to press lawmakers to support certain legislation. Some advocates gave emotional, personal appeals.
Cortney Carroll of Richmond gave her first public telling of her experience at the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history. Carroll told the Senate panel that she was in the crowd when a gunman opened fire on country music concert in Las Vegas last year, giving a gripping account of how she and family members ran and hid to avoid being killed. She testified in favor of a bill that would enact a state ban on bump stocks, a device that allows semi-automatic weapons to fire nearly as fast as automatic ones that the Vegas user used.
"We were untrained in a war zone," Carroll said. "Do you know what it's like to live in fear 24/7? Because I do."
The committee voted to refer the bump stock bill to another committee.
Elizabeth Baran from Maryland described a brutal attack from an abusive ex-boyfriend that left her with permanent brain injuries. She said would have been able to prevent the attack if she'd had a gun.
"I was completely helpless," Baran said at the gun-rights rally. "I never want anyone to feel what I felt that day."