Gov. Ralph Northam’s assault weapons bill was in trouble – not from Republicans in the newly blue legislature, but from a handful of fellow Democrats in the Senate.
The day before the General Assembly gaveled into session last month, in a closed-door caucus meeting, Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax City, and a few rural lawmakers said they wouldn’t support all eight pieces of Northam’s gun-control agenda. Specific details of some measures worried the senators. For Petersen at least, the main concern was the sheer number of bills. His limit, he said that day, was four. “It’s just piling on,” he said in an interview last week, after he and three other Democrats joined with Republicans to kill the ban on future sales of assault weapons in committee. “You can’t discount people that were raised and grew up in this state and have their own traditions. You can’t just suddenly kick them to the curb.” Virginia’s Capitol is in the midst of a revolution, with the House, Senate and Executive Mansion under Democratic control for the first time in a quarter-century. Legislation that routinely died with Republicans in charge has flown out of both chambers, including measures to raise the minimum wage, shift to clean energy, decriminalize marijuana, ban anti-LGBT discrimination and let localities remove Confederate monuments. But there are limits to how far some Democrats want to go, even on gun control – the party’s marquee issue in the November elections. [full article]