General Assembly adjourns with no action on gun bills

House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, is greeted by supporters as she heads to the House of Delegates special session on gun violence on July 9 in Richmond.

As Democrats prepare to take control of the state legislature in January, a new Roanoke College poll shows support for several of their priorities.

The poll shows a majority of surveyed Virginians back gun control measures, the Equal Rights Amendment and raising the minimum wage, which are just a few of the issues Democrats campaigned on this year. Democrats have already filed a host of bills related to those issues ahead of the legislative session, which begins Jan. 8.

Gun control played a prominent role this campaign season after the May 31 mass shooting in Virginia Beach. Gov. Ralph Northam called for a special session for legislators to take up the issue of gun violence, but Republicans, using their slim majorities in both chambers, shut down the session. While Democrats promised to deliver on gun control if they took over the General Assembly, Republicans warned people while campaigning that Democrats would violate their Second Amendment rights.

The poll shows that 84% of Virginians support universal checks for firearm purchases and 57% support an assault weapons ban. Also, 76% of people polled support extreme risk protection orders, which would allow a family member to petition a judge for a warrant to seize legally owned guns if someone is determined to be an immediate threat to themselves or others.

Democrats have already filed several gun control bills, including measures that would require universal background checks, create civil penalties for not reporting lost or stolen firearms to police, reinstate Virginia’s lapsed one-handgun-a-month law, and give localities the ability to prohibit the carrying of firearms in public spaces during events that would require a permit.

Meanwhile, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group, has been leading the charge in encouraging gun owners to turn out in droves at local government meetings to call for localities to become “Second Amendment Sanctuaries.” More than 30 government bodies have voted to adopt the largely symbolic title to indicate opposition to gun control.

The Roanoke College poll also shows that 73% of Virginians support passing the Equal Rights Amendment, 68% are in favor of regulations that slow the effects of climate change, 66% back raising the minimum wage to $15 over several years, 59% support reducing the prison population and prison racial disparities, and 53% approve of making it easier for women to get an abortion.

“The policy preferences expressed in this poll reinforce the Democratic victories in the General Assembly races in early November,” said Harry Wilson, director of the poll. “A majority of Virginians seem to be on board with much of the Democratic agenda for the state although support for some policies is stronger than for others.”

The only issue in the poll that didn’t garner a majority of support was requiring workers to pay dues in a unionized workplace. On that issue, 38% were in support of repealing the state’s “right-to-work” law, which bars unions from collecting dues from workers they represent, while 43% were opposed. Northam has discouraged the repeal of the law.

Democrats will have control of the legislature as well as the three positions in the executive branch. Northam’s approval rating was 35%, a slight decline from 37% in August. In the new poll, 28% of Virginians disapprove of the way he’s handling his job, while 23% feel mixed, and 13% didn’t answer.

The poll was conducted between Nov. 10 and Nov. 20, and 609 Virginia residents were interviewed via both landlines and cellphones. The poll has a margin of error of four percentage points.

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