Glenn Youngkin and his fellow Republicans pulled off an upset in Virginia’s elections on Tuesday. The big question now is what that means for gun owners in the state.
One important thing is fairly clear already: new gun bans won’t be coming.
The possibility of an “assault weapons” ban, or even confiscation effort, has been lingering over the state since Democrats took total control of the state government in 2019. It was initially sold as a ban on possession in addition to new sales. Then it was paired back to a sales ban which passed the House of Delegates in 2020. But, it was ultimately defeated by moderate Democrats in the state senate after a grassroots campaign turned 90% of the state’s counties into Second Amendment sanctuaries.
After that, Democrats didn’t even introduce another “assault weapons” ban ahead of the election in the 2021 session. And the sponsor of the one that passed the house the year before was defeated in his primary.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe promised to resurrect the proposal if elected.
Youngkin’s campaign, on the other hand, told The Reload in October he opposes an “assault weapons” ban. And, further, his newly elected lieutenant governor Winsome Sears featured a picture of herself holding an AR-15 on her campaign signs. With Republicans also capturing control of the House of Delegates, the possibility of passing a ban on some of the most popular guns in the state is a non-starter for the foreseeable future.
That in and of itself is likely a relief for many Virginia gun owners who had the possibility of their guns being outlawed hanging over their heads for the better part of two years. But, it’s not the end of the conversation about gun policy in the state.
For one, the Democrats were able to pass other gun-control laws in 2020 even though they couldn’t get an “assault weapons” ban on the books. Democrats passed a one-handgun-a-month restriction, red flag law, universal background check bill, and empowered localities to restrict gun carry in certain locations.
Gun-rights groups have already tried, sometimes successfully, to challenge these laws in court and are going to push for their repeal in the next legislative session. They’ll likely also pursue pro-gun reforms, such as permitless gun carry.
That’s where the climb gets harder. Democrats retain control of the state senate and they aren’t up for re-election until 2023. Baring some kind of party-switching move, it’s unlikely repeals of the bills the state senate just passed a year ago will make it through the chamber baring some very difficult bipartisan bargaining. That’s even more true of sweeping new reforms. Permitless carry has rarely passed in a state where Republicans don’t control all levers of state government and Virginia is unlikely to buck that trend.
The prospects are fairly dim for big pro-gun moves under the new makeup of the state government, even with Republicans flipping the House and all of the statewide executive offices.
There is more hope for less ambitious reforms, though. Added protections for those involved in red flag gun seizures, exemptions from background check requirements for those who hold valid concealed-carry licenses, or pairing back where localities can prohibit gun carry could all be on the table. Plus, the new Republican attorney general could change the focus of gun prosecutions or attempt to negotiate more gun-carry reciprocity deals with places such as Pennsylvania.
The pressure is off gun owners in Virginia after this election, but they shouldn’t expect a ton of gains at this point either.