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The new General Assembly majority is moving quickly to advance gun-related legislation that the previous Republican majority has blocked for years. Some of the Democrats’ centerpiece proposals received committee approval Monday, as WFIR’s Evan Jones reports.

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Virginia lawmakers have taken the first steps toward enacting a series gun laws that supporters say will make the state safer — and opponents say will punish only law-abiding gun owners. The first step in the process is committee, in this case the Senate Judiciary Committee now chaired by Roanoke Senator John Edwards. The first of many proposals before it Monday was one to limit handgun sales to one per person per month, and it passed on a party-line vote. So did a separate measure calling for a limit of handgun purchases in Virginia to one per month per person and what is commonly called a “red flag” bill that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from anyone deemed dangerous to themselves or others.

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NEWS RELEASE: The Lynchburg Police Department still is receiving information about bear sightings in the Boonsboro area, specifically in the Bedford Hills neighborhood. Due to the warmer weather in the city recently, coupled with easy food access, many bears in the area have not yet gone into hibernation this winter. While bear-related incidents can be frustrating and unnerving, there are practical steps our community can take to peacefully coexist with these beautiful animals.

Be mindful to remove food attractants such as bird feeders, garbage, and pet food from around the residence.
Store garbage in a garage, shed, or in a bear-proof container until trash pick-up day.
Black bears are very skilled at climbing, including elevated decks. It’s important to remove food attractants from those locations as well to include bird feeders and cat food.
Talk to neighbors and friends to remind them to follow these tips. Please visithttps://www.dgif.virginia.gov/wildlife/bear/living-with-black-bears/for more tips. For more information, call 434-455-6105 to speak with Chief Animal Warden Ryan Ball.  Animal Warden Ball will be available for interviews about this topic tomorrow before 2:30 p.m.

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Some top Virginia Democratic senators are expressing reservations about plans to ban assault weapons — a key part of the new Democratic majority’s gun-control proposals and one that’s drawn fierce resistance from gun-rights advocates.

“A lot of people don’t really understand assault weapons and how complicated the issue really is,” said Democratic Sen. John Edwards. “It’s going to be very difficult to figure out a way to do it. But we’re studying it, that’s all I can say.”

He’s one of at least four moderate senators — the others are Sens. Chap Petersen, Creigh Deeds and Lynwood Lewis — who are skeptical of plans to ban assault weapons. None of them has ruled out voting for an assault weapon ban, but all have said they aren’t impressed with any of the drafts of proposed bans they’ve seen.

“I’ve not seen an enforceable bill that makes sense yet,” Deeds said.

Heated debates over guns are set to dominate this year’s legislative session. A failure to pass an assault weapon ban would be a blow to Democrats.

The Senate Judiciary Committee, headed by Edwards, moved quickly Monday to advance several pieces of gun legislation that a Republican majority has blocked for years. Those bills include limiting handgun purchases to once a month, universal background checks on gun purchases, allowing localities to ban guns in public buildings, parks and other areas, and a red flag bill that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from anyone deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.

But a ban on assault weapons was not put on the docket for debate.

“Well, you can read into that what you want,” said Petersen, another Democrat on the committee.

Petersen said that “on paper” he supports an assault weapons ban but said he has concerns about “details that nobody seems to have figured out yet.” Those details include like what technically constitutes an assault weapon or what to do with people who already own them.

Gov. Ralph Northam and Democratic lawmakers have credited their focus on gun control for helping them win full control of the General Assembly for the first time in more than two decades. Guns were a key topic of last year’s legislative elections — particularly after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach claimed a dozen lives — and gun-control groups heavily funded Democratic candidates.

A Democratic-led special rules committee voted last week to ban gun s from the Capitol and a legislative office building.

Republicans and gun-rights groups are offering stiff resistance. Gun owners are descending on local government offices to demand they establish sanctuaries for gun rights. More than 100 counties, cities and towns have declared themselves Second Amendment sanctuaries and vowed to oppose any new “unconstitutional restrictions” on guns.

Hundreds of pro-gun advocates showed up Monday to protest the gun-control bills heard in the Senate committee.

Some of the most vocal opposition has focused on plans to ban semi-automatic weapons such as the popular AR-15-style rifles. Gun-rights advocates have accused Democrats of wanting to confiscate such rifles from current gun owners. Northam has said he has no interest in doing so.

An estimated 8 million AR-style guns have been sold since they were introduced to the public in the 1960s. The weapons are known as easy to use, easy to clean and easy to modify with a variety of scopes, stocks and rails.

George Persinger, 65, a custom home builder, drove about three hours Monday to voice his opposition to the proposed assault weapons ban and other gun control laws.

“The AR-15 is a tool. I can use this to go kill feral hogs. I can use this weapon at home. I can use it to protect myself and my family. My wife can shoot this, my kids can shoot this,” he said.

Edwards noted the popularity and widespread availability of AR-style rifles, saying that makes debates about outlawing them difficult.

“I don’t know how you ban them all of a sudden,” he said.

Democrats have a slim 21-19 majority in the state senate, giving them little margin to lose members on key votes like an assault weapons ban. Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax, a Democrat, casts votes in cases of a tie.

Gun control is only one part of an enormous agenda lawmakers are tackling this year. They have less than 60 days to get everything passed.

Wildlife Warriors

L-R Dale Thompson and Maribeth Crook/C Palmer photo

The “Wildlife Warriors for the Southwest Virginia Wildlife Center” are raising funds for legal expenses, for the wild animal rescue facility – with another campaign ending on Wednesday. An update from WFIR’s Gene Marrano:

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Click below to hear the complete in-studio conversation with the Wildlife Warriors

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The General Assembly begins its first full week of this year’s year’s session today, and the House of Delegates does so under newly-adopted rules that has Republican members fuming. The new Democratic majority adopted the rules last week, and among the changes, is one that moved setting policies for sexual harassment training and firearms away from the entire House; instead, they go now to the House Rules Committee.  Most House committees have 13 Democratic members and 9 Republicans — the Rules Committee has 13 Democrats and 5 Republicans. WFIR’s Evan Jones has more on the debate:

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The House Rules Committee and its Senate counterpart wasted no time Friday jointly adopting a new firearms policy for the state capitol. Democrats say the move was needed to protect public safety. Republicans call the action “egregious” and “overreach”. Previously, anyone with a valid concealed handgun permit was allowed to bring a gun into the Capitol.

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) – The Pentagon says the two soldiers killed Saturday in Afghanistan by a roadside bomb were from Virginia and Illinois. On Sunday, military officials identified the casualties as 29-year-old Staff Sgt. Ian P. McLaughlin of Newport News, Virginia; and 21-year-old Pfc. Miguel A. Villalon of Joliet, Illinois. Both soldiers were assigned to 307th Brigade Engineer Battalion, 3rd Brigade Combat Team, 82nd Airborne Division, Fort Bragg, North Carolina. The Pentagon says their vehicle was struck by an improvised explosive device in Afghanistan’s Kandahar Province. Two other soldiers were injured.