RICHMOND — Virginia lawmakers voted Friday to ban firearms at the state Capitol, the first in what's expected to be many contentious gun votes in coming weeks.
Newly empowered Democrats in the General Assembly voted to ban guns at the Capitol and a legislative office building, saying the move was needed to protect public safety.
Public officials have expressed concerns about planned Jan. 20 rallies that are set to draw huge crowds of pro-gun and gun-control advocates. Gun advocates from around Virginia and even out of state have pledged to turn out in force to highlight their resistance to proposed gun-control measures.
"The overall goal here is to protect and ensure the safety of our members and of the people that are in our building coming and going," Democratic Del. Marcus Simon said before the vote.
The ban would apply to lawmakers in addition to the general public.
Republicans have voiced opposition to banning guns at the Capitol and some GOP lawmakers routinely carry guns while at the legislature. "I feel this egregious, I think it's an overreach." said Del. Terry Austin.
Previously, anyone with a valid concealed handgun permit was allowed to bring a gun into the Capitol. Weapons were banned in certain parts of the building, which was designed by former President Thomas Jefferson, including the Senate gallery and the governor's office on the third floor.
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam has outlawed guns from other state buildings, continuing a policy started by his predessor, former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, in 2015.
The debate on whether to ban guns in the Capitol is part of a larger fight on guns that's set to dominate this year's legislative session.
Democrats have a full majority at the state house for the first time in a generation and have promised significant new gun restrictions, including universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons and a red flag law that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from anyone deemed to be dangerous to themselves or others.
Gun owners are demanding that local government officials 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.