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Virginia Democrats plan to pass gun control bills, other changes after legislative victory

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After taking control of the Virginia House of Delegates and the Virginia Senate, Democratic legislative leaders are calling for changes to the state’s gun laws as well as reforms on other issues.

For the first time since 1993, Democrats have control of the House, the Senate and the governor’s mansion.

In a post-election news conference Wednesday afternoon, Senate Democratic Leader Dick Saslaw, D-Springfield, said the General Assembly can work on issues that Republicans have been blocking. This includes efforts on what he called common-sense gun reforms, which include a ban on the sale of assault weapons and high capacity magazines and raising the age to purchase a rifle from 18 to 21.

Earlier this year, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed several changes to the state’s gun laws. Along with the reforms mentioned by Saslaw, Northam also called for expanded background checks, stricter penalties for gun law violations and a ban on buying more than one handgun in a 30-day period. He called the General Assembly to a special session to pass the reforms, but Republican leaders declined to hold a vote and instead sent the recommendations to the Virginia State Crime Commission for review.

House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax County, said Virginia voters have decided they want a change to gun legislation as well as reform to anti-discrimination laws and environmental policy.

House Democratic Caucus Chair Charniele Herring, D-Alexandria, echoed her colleagues’ positions, saying that Democrats won because voters agreed with their progressive message on issues like curtailing gun violence and the Equal Rights Amendment. She said that voters want a change and that “we’re going to give it to them.”

Earlier Wednesday, Northam held a cabinet meeting in which he said that Republicans in the General Assembly produced no results on curtailing gun violence and that he will make this one of his priorities.

In the cabinet meeting, Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran said that the commission will reconvene Tuesday to review Northam’s gun control proposals.

“We’re all going to be very busy, but in a very good way” and “it’s going to be a new day,” Moran said.

Legislative Democrats were asked at the news conference whether they would support repealing Virginia’s right-to-work law, but they declined to comment on those specifics until the caucuses meet to establish their priorities. Many Democratic candidates had voiced opposition to the state’s right-to-work laws during the campaign. 

Saslaw said the legislative victory can be partially attributed to a shift in support from suburban voters, who he said have gradually gone from red to purple and now to blue. He said that many of those voters have fallen in line with “common sense” on gun control measures, investing in schools and passing the Equal Rights Act, which led them to fall into the Democratic column.

An analysis from the University of Virginia that was released earlier this week found that one of the main reasons that suburbs have shifted is because demographics have shifted toward groups that are more likely to vote Democrat.

Starting in January, Democrats will have a two-seat majority in the Senate. In the 100-seat House, 54 seats have been confirmed for the Democrats and 43 for Republicans. Republicans are expected to win two of the seats that have yet to be called and Democrats are expected to win one of them, which would give them a 10-seat majority.

Jessica Post, the president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) said in the news conference that the DLCC is working to help shift other state legislatures Democrat, including Pennsylvania.