Virginia Governor to Call a Special Session to Address Gun Violence

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, center, attends a vigil in response to a shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Va., Saturday, June 1, 2019.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, center, attends a vigil in response to a shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Va., Saturday, June 1, 2019. Patrick Semansky/AP Photo


Connecting state and local government leaders

Following the death of 12 people in a Virginia Beach mass shooting, the Virginia governor will reintroduce a package of gun control bills rejected by lawmakers this year.

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam announced Tuesday he will call a special legislative session to consider a package of gun restrictions in the wake of the mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal center last week.

The Democratic governor said he wants the Republican-controlled Virginia General Assembly to take up “common sense public safety laws,” several of which were narrowly defeated in committee this year.

Those measures include legislation to:

  • Require universal gun background checks
  • Ban assault weapons and other accessories like silencers and bump stocks;
  • Allow authorities to take guns from people believed to be a risk to themselves or others under an extreme risk protective order
  • Limit handgun purchases to one per month
  • Require child access prevention
  • Require gun owners to report lost and stolen firearms within 24 hours
  • Expand local authority to regulate firearms, including in government buildings

Northam said he is asking “for votes and laws not thoughts and prayers” after a Virginia Beach city engineer opened fire inside a municipal government building and killed 12 people. He said he wants to see the full General Assembly vote on the gun legislation.

“Business as usual, with leadership shielding most of their members from taking tough votes by setting early morning hearings before small subcommittees, won't cut it,” Northam said.  “Virginians deserve leadership, and they will be watching.”

A Republican-led committee voted to defeat more than a dozen Democrat-sponsored gun control bills this year, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported in January.

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox called the governor’s actions “hasty and suspect” and reiterated that while the governor can call a special session, he can’t specify what legislation state lawmakers consider. Cox said Republican lawmakers will offer their own legislative solutions to address gun violence.

“We believe addressing gun violence starts with holding criminals accountable for their actions, not infringing on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” Cox said in a statement released Tuesday. “When the Special Session convenes, Republicans will put forward a package of legislation to stiffen penalties for those who use firearms to commit crimes, including mandatory minimum sentences.”

The National Rifle Association, which is headquartered in Virginia, has worked closely with lawmakers to defeat gun control legislation in the past.

Virginia previously banned individuals from purchasing more than one handgun per month, but the law was repealed by former Gov. Robert McDonnell in 2012. While attempting to revive the law in 2017, then-Gov. Terry McAuliffe said the state’s lax gun laws had made it a destination for criminals looking to purchase firearms in bulk.

A federal appeals court invalidated a similar one-gun-per-month law in Washington, D.C. in 2015.

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Andrea Noble is a Staff Correspondent for Route Fifty.

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