Youngkin acts on gun bills, vetoing dozens as expected

Sarah Rankin/The Associated Press | 3/28/2024, 6 p.m.
Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced Tuesday he had vetoed 30 pieces of gun-related legislation, including measures that would have halted …
Gov. Youngkin announced Tuesday, March 26, that he had vetoed 30 pieces of gun-related legislation, including measures that would have halted the sale of certain semi-automatic firearms. This photograph shows the governor speaking at an event in Alexandria on Dec. 13, 2023. Photo by Associated Press

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin announced Tuesday he had vetoed 30 pieces of gun-related legislation, including measures that would have halted the sale of certain semiautomatic firearms.

Gov. Youngkin’s vetoes, which drew criticism from Democrats, were not surprising. But the governor had been vague enough on the issue that he had left even gun rights groups with a degree of uncertainty about how he would act on the dozens of bills the Democratic-controlled General Assembly sent him during this year’s session.

Gov. Youngkin also announced Tuesday he was proposing amendments to six gun bills and signing two pairs of identical bills that passed with broad bipartisan support. One of those pairs would ban auto sears, which convert semi-automatic handguns into automatic weapons, and the other is intended to help keep guns out of the hands of juveniles who pose a risk to others.

In a news release and statement, Gov. Youngkin said the bills he signed would help protect public safety and the ones he amended have the potential to make it harder for criminals to use guns. The ones he vetoed would trample on citizens’ constitutional rights, he said.

“I swore an oath to defend the Constitution of the United States of America and the Constitution of Virginia, and that absolutely includes protecting the right of law-abiding Virginians to keep and bear arms,” Gov. Youngkin said.

Gov. Youngkin generally toed the GOP party line on firearms rhetoric in his 2021 campaign. But he notably did not receive the endorsement of the National Rifle Association.

And he has largely avoided the issue during his first two years in office because divided control of the Legislature during that time meant gun bills died before they could reach his desk.

That changed after the House of Delegates flipped in November’s elections. Democrats back in full control of the statehouse sent him dozens of bills they said would improve public safety by tightening restrictions on firearms.

Among the measures Gov. Youngkin vetoed was a bill sponsored by Sen. Suhas Subramanyam of Loudoun County that would have implemented a five-day waiting period for gun purchases. Virginia currently imposes no such waiting period, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence.

Another vetoed bill would have prohibited the importation, sale, manufacture, purchase or transfer of an “assault firearm” made on or after July 1 of this year. Possession of such a weapon would be banned for those under 21, and the measure would also prohibit the sale of certain ammunition-feeding devices that can hold over 10 rounds.

Opponents have questioned the constitutionality of the measure, which would have affected the sale of new models of the popular AR-15, while proponents argued it would limit the number of “weapons of war” available for sale in the future, along with high-capacity magazines that have been used in mass shootings.

“Shameful and unthinking action!” tweeted Sen. Creigh Deeds, a Democrat from Charlottesville, who noted Youngkin also vetoed a bill of his that would restrict guns at institutes of higher education.

Other bills that met Gov. Youngkin’s veto pen include measures that would have prohibited the open carrying of certain semi-automatic rifles and shotguns in certain public areas; established so-called safe storage requirements for guns in homes with minors or people not legally allowed to possess firearms; and created a civil penalty for people who leave a handgun visible in an unattended vehicle.

One of the pieces of legislation Gov. Youngkin signed would allow for parents to be charged with a felony under the state’s child abuse and neglect law if they allow a child to have access to a firearm after being notified the child poses a threat of violence.

Democratic Sen. Schuyler VanValkenburg, who sponsored the Senate version of the bill, has said he worked with the family of Lucia Bremer, a 13-year-old suburban Richmond girl who was shot nine times while she and a friend walked home from school in 2021. The then-14-year-old who pleaded guilty last year to first degree murder and other charges in Miss Bremer’s killing had access to his guardian’s firearm even though, according to Sen. VanValkenburg’s office, he had been charged with felonies in the past and been the subject of a school-initiated threat assessment.

Lucia’s parents, Jonathan and Meredith Bremer, said in a statement provided by Sen. VanValkenburg’s office that the legislative change “was necessary and important.”

“We appreciate the wide bipartisan support it received, and we are grateful that the governor chose to sign Lucia’s Law on this, the third anniversary of her murder,” they said.

The law will go into effect July 1 of this year, like most legislation passed this year and approved by Gov. Youngkin. Lawmakers will meet next in Richmond on April 17 for a one-day session where they will take up Gov. Youngkin’s proposed amendments to legislation and could attempt veto overrides.

Democrats alone do not have the votes for an override, which requires a two-thirds vote by both chambers.