Virginia Governor Vetoes Widespread Gun Control

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin recently vetoed 30 anti-gun bills and amended several others, ending the threat of further gun control for the current legislative session. Once a gun rights bastion, Virginia’s changing political landscape has turned the Commonwealth into a Second Amendment battleground. Youngkin’s vetoes ensure that gun control will be a significant issue in the next election cycle.

Virginia State Flag
Many Virginia 2A advocates are adopting Virginia’s State Motto: Sic Semper Tyrannis (Thus Always to tyrants) in response to gun control efforts. (

Urban vs. Rural

Virginia’s politics follow a similar path to other states. Concentrated urban and suburban regions vie with rural areas over substantial issues, including gun control. This stark difference of opinion stood out clearly after the 2019 election, which gave Democrats full control of the General Assembly.

Michael Bloomberg powered many of those wins through massive funding for anti-gun political campaigns, an investment about which he was very open. Democrat Delegates and Senators repaid him by pre-filing a flurry of anti-gun bills as soon as their election was confirmed. Nearly all of the anti-gun bills came from the Washington, DC suburbs, Richmond and its suburbs, and the Tidewater sprawl. A notable exception was Senator Creigh Deeds, a longtime lawmaker and gun control advocate from Charlottesville, home to the University of Virginia.

Then-Governor Ralph Northam, also a Democrat, had already pushed gun control, including an “assault weapons” ban. Northam confirmed he would sign any such bills that reached his desk.

Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin vetoed 30 anti-gun bills, often citing them as being unconstitutional. (

Second Amendment Resurgence

These actions duly alarmed Virginia’s localities, most of whom declared themselves Second Amendment Sanctuaries before the end of the year. Meeting rooms overflowed, prompting many to be moved to high school gyms to accommodate the crush. Most speakers opposed the looming gun control, and over 90% of the Commonwealth’s counties, towns, and cities expressed their displeasure with the sudden gun control blitz.

This movement culminated in the annual Virginia Citizens Defense League Lobby Day in January of 2020. VCDL holds Lobby Day every year on the first day of the new legislative session. It provides concerned Virginians an opportunity to speak with their representatives and lobby them, if you will, about supporting their Second Amendment rights. Lobby Day’s average turnout is several hundred people.

But the 2020 Lobby Day was different. Tens of thousands of people showed up, many from out of state. Richmond’s streets were clogged with armed protesters. Despite the theatrics of some lawmakers, who refused to show up for work that day because they felt “threatened,” Lobby Day was a huge success. There were no incidents, and the protesters even cleaned up after themselves. That massive show also stopped the passage of the most onerous anti-gun bills, and Republicans took back the House of Delegates and the Governorship in 2021, though gun control wasn’t the driving issue that year.

Virginia 2A Sanctuary map
Most Virginia localities proclaimed themselves Second Amendment Sanctuaries following Democrat gun control efforts. (

Fast Forward

Democrats regained control in the General Assembly for the 2024-2025 legislative sessions. Once again, they pre-filed dozens of gun control bills, including sweeping gun bans. Virginians were alarmed, but nothing like 2019. Most trusted that Governor Glenn Youngkin would veto anything that got through. They were correct, but reliance on a single politician of any party is risky.

But the Democrats were undeterred. The entire Democrat delegation voted for every gun control bill. They also voted against every pro-gun bill. Not one of those made it out of committee, while every single gun control bill not only cleared the committees but passed its floor vote. The Democrats also voted unanimously against a bill that would have imposed a 10-year mandatory sentence against anyone using a firearm in a second-offense felony. One suspects that the party leadership laid down the law on gun control. And that it’s about banning guns, not punishing criminals, has become crystal clear.

The most egregious anti-gun bills sought to ban “assault weapons,” severely restrict concealed carry reciprocity, impose a five-day waiting period for all gun purchases, expand Red Flag laws, ban concealed carry in restaurants, and impose a $500 fine on anyone leaving a visible firearm in a vehicle. That vehicle would also be towed.

Delegate Dan Helmer and Senator Creigh Deeds introduced twin “assault weapons” bans, both of which were even more draconian than usual. Past bans have loosely defined “assault weapons” as semi-automatic firearms that can accept detachable magazines and have any two features, such as pistol grips, collapsible stocks, threaded barrels, etc. The usual stuff. But Helmer’s and Deeds’ bills only required one such feature. They threw in magazine restrictions for good measure. Had either bill passed, many concealed carry pistols would be “assault weapons,” as would my Henry Homesteader carbine. These bills were truly ridiculous.

Virginia Delegate Dan Helmer
Anti-Second Amendment Virginia Delegate Dan Helmer made a big deal about taking policy advice from prominent gun control advocacy groups. (

Helmer and Deeds both demonstrated the typical misunderstanding of the firearms they seek to ban. Helmer, a West Point graduate and US Army Reserve Lt. Colonel, claims that civilian AR-15s are identical to the M-4 he carried in Afghanistan. His assertions and Constitutionally dubious rationale were epically shot down by Delegate Nick Freitas, a former Special Forces weapons sergeant. Helmer’s bill passed anyway.

Deeds showed his firearms ignorance when he told NPR that “A shotgun is liable to cause more noise and do more damage and is easier to control than an assault-style weapon that you lose control of once you pull the trigger. Who knows what you shoot up? Who knows how many of your family members you hurt? I think there are other ways to protect one’s property other than with an assault weapon.”

Youngkin to the Rescue

Youngkin’s vetoes saved the day, and the Democrats lacked the numbers to override. The problem is that gun-friendly Virginia Governors are fewer and further between than they used to be. The Virginia Democrat Party, like its national parent, is firmly anti-gun, and Virginia’s demographics are trending Blue. Virginia Governors cannot serve two consecutive terms, so we will have a new chief executive in two years.

Many observers, including me, believe Democrat leaders knew Youngkin would likely veto any gun control bills they passed. The Governor said as much in his State of the State Address. I think they pushed those bills anyway to create an electoral issue on which to run in 2025, and with which to bludgeon their Republican opponents in toss-up districts. I’m certain they will also analyze what worked and what didn’t to prepare for next year’s session. Perhaps Youngkin’s veto statements will provide an opening. But that’s standard legislative practice.

The first steps have already been taken, beginning with Deeds’ outrage over the Governor vetoing his “assault weapons” ban:

Virginia State Senator Creigh Deeds tweet

VCDL President Philip Van Cleave shot back:

VCDL President Philip Van Cleave response tweet to Creigh Deeds

Van Cleave is a very active and effective gun rights lobbyist, and we’re lucky to have him in Virginia. Van Cleave noted that he’s never seen an anti-gun legislative onslaught like the 2024 Virginia legislative session. Gun controllers bulldozed their bills through on a strict partisan vote, though a couple of Republicans jumped ship in committee. But it wouldn’t have mattered since not one Democrat opposed even a single gun control bill.

I expect Democrats to continue this tactic, understanding Virginia’s changing demographics. The Commonwealth has been ground zero for the bitter gun control fight since 2019. That likely won’t change anytime soon.

William "Bucky" Lawson is a self-described "typical Appalachian-American gun enthusiast". He is a military historian specializing in World War II and has written a few things, as he says, "here and there". A featured contributor for Strategy & Tactics, he likes dogs, range time, and a good cigar - preferably with an Old Fashioned that has an extra orange slice.

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