As Democratic gun bills advance through the Virginia General Assembly, Del. Lee Carter has been one of only a few Democrats in the House of Delegates to vote “no” on several bills in Gov. Ralph Northam’s proposed gun package, including a proposed “red flag” law and a ban on the sale of assault-style weapons.
Sen. Scott Surovell, meanwhile, helped kill the assault weapons ban in the state Senate, a vote he explained via social media on Monday by saying the bill needed improvement.
Northam endorsed eight new gun laws ahead of the 2020 session, of which Carter voted for only half. All eight bills were approved by the House of Delegates and have since “crossed over” for consideration by the state Senate.
“I voted for four of them and against four of them, which is the position guaranteed to literally to piss off everyone on this issue,” said Carter, D-50th.
Carter, aformer U.S. Marine veteran and firearms owner, voted in favor of bills to establish universal background checks, report lost and stolen firearms, impose penalties for improper storage of firearms and prohibit the possession of firearms for individuals subject to protective orders.
Carter voted against bills that would ban the sale of assault weapons; establish extreme risk protective orders – sometimes called “red flag laws;” reinstate Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month rule; and allow localities to adopt ordinances governing the possession of firearms in their jurisdictions.
The bill banning the sale and transfer of assault-style weapons, HB 961, was killed by the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday, Feb. 17. The Senate committee sent the bill to the Virginia Crime Commission for further study, postponing a vote until 2021.
Carter said he voted against the assault weapons ban because he didn’t agree with the definition of “assault firearms” included in the bill. The bill would have banned the sale of any semi-automatic, center-fire rifles with a magazine capacity over 12 rounds. But the proposed definition also included a long list of rifle add-ons, such as pistol grips, folding stocks and flash suppressors, that would qualify semi-automatic rifles as assault weapons.
Carter said those distinctions don’t make sense.
“The list of characteristics is completely arbitrary and speaks to the fact that most of the people involved in writing this bill don’t know about guns. It makes them feel better, but it doesn’t actually do anything they’re trying to accomplish,” Carter said.
On Monday, Surovell, D-36th, was among the four Democrats on the Senate judiciary Committee who joined GOP members in voting against the assault weapons ban in a committee hearing.
On Facebook, Surovell said he fully supports increasing the regulation of assault weapons but said the bill needs more work.
“The votes in the Senate have not existed to pass the bill since we gaveled in, and the bill has numerous issues that needed to be refined,” Surovell said. “Today, I voted to continue the conversation in the crime commission to come up with a product that might pass and so we can focus on legislation that can pass this session.”
Carter also voted against extreme protective orders, which would allow the temporary confiscation of a firearm from a person who poses a substantial risk to themselves or others and creates a legal process by which an order may be issued.
Carter, the state’s only socialist lawmaker, said he voted against the bill after receiving numerous death threats in December and January over a bill to allow Virginia’s public employees, but not police officers, to strike. Critics of the strike bill falsely claimed it would allow localities to enforce new gun laws in “Second Amendment sanctuary” counties.
Carter said the so-called “red flag” law could allow people to make false claims with the intent of disarming people, like himself, who’ve been on the receiving end of what he claims are serious and credible death threats.
“I monitor the extreme right part of the internet because that’s the part of the internet where they regularly discuss murdering me. And what I’ve seen them say about that bill is that, if it goes into effect, they’re going to weaponize it and use false claims to try to disarm people before they attack them,” Carter said.
Carter pointed to the recent surge in white supremacist violence, including a thwarted neo-Nazi terror attack planned for the Virginia Citizen’s Defense League’s Jan. 20 gun rally, as another reason for voting against the bill.
“I want to make sure that anybody who neo-Nazis would want to kill will have the ability to stop Nazis from killing them,” Carter said.
The assault weapons ban has been at the epicenter of the debate over Democrats’ proposed gun reforms with gun rights advocates and organizations across the state denouncing the bill as a violation of Virginians’ Second Amendment rights.
Virginia Citizens Defense League President Philip Van Cleave, who organized a lobby day event on Jan. 20 that brought an estimated 22,000 gun rights supporters to Richmond, hailed the defeat of the assault weapons ban as a major victory.
“Everybody’s hard work, Lobby Day, and sanctuary movement paid off,” Van Cleave said on Twitter Monday.
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