Virginia Governor Calls Special Session to Tackle Gun Violence
Virginia Governor Ralph Northam called lawmakers back to the state Capitol Tuesday to address the issue of gun violence in the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Virginia Beach.
“No one should go to work, to school, or to church wondering if they will come home,” Northam said during a 10 a.m. press conference.
“But that is what our society has come to, because we fail to act on gun violence,” he said. “I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.”
Northam, a Democrat, went on to issue a challenge to the Republican-controlled General Assembly, saying he wants each legislator to go on record as for or against his proposals.
“The nation will be watching,” he said.
The governor’s challenge came just four days after a municipal employee in Virginia Beach, DeWayne Craddock, quit his job via email and then showed up at his former workplace armed with two semi-automatic handguns, a silencer and extended ammunition magazines.
He then killed 12 people in a municipal building, before being shot to death himself in a shootout with police.
The package of legislation Northam wants the General Assembly to pass includes a ban on high-capacity magazines and silencers; mandatory, universal background checks before gun purchases; a limit of one handgun purchase per month; a broadening of the ability of local governments to limit guns in municipal buildings; and a “red flag” law that would allow authorities to seize the weapons of people deemed to be a threat to themselves or others.
In a statement posted to Twitter, Republican Assembly Speaker Kirk Cox dismissed the governor’s actions, saying while Northam can call a special session, he cannot specify what the General Assembly chooses to consider.
“We intend to use that time to take productive steps to address gun violence by holding criminals accountable with tougher sentences — including mandatory minimums,” Cox said.
In a longer statement posted to the Virginia House GOP website, Cox called the governor’s call to special session “hasty and suspect.”
“Following the tragedy at Virginia Tech in 2007 and 2017’s shooting in Parkland, Florida, Virginia took a very deliberative approach that ultimately ended in substantive and bipartisan reforms to keep our communities safer,” Cox said. “The governor’s call to Special Session is more likely to inflame political tensions than produce substantive public policy changes that will keep people safe.”
He went on to say that when the special session convenes, he and members of his party will put forward a package of legislation to “stiffen penalties for those who use firearms to commit crimes, including mandatory minimum sentences.
“These steps, combined with our ongoing efforts to strengthen the mental and behavioral health system, are the best ways to keep our communities safe from those who commit violence with guns,” Cox said.
The mass shooting in Virginia Beach came amidst an election year for the state. All 140 legislative seats are up for grabs this year, and given the slim majorities the GOP holds in both the state House and Senate, the Democrats are thought to have a realistic chance of taking back control of the General Assembly.
After the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, in which a student with a history of mental problems shot 32 people to death, the state passed a law prohibiting people adjudicated as seriously mentally ill from buying a gun. But a drive for universal background checks failed.
Northam said in 2017, the last year for which complete statistics are available, 1,028 Virginians died as a result of gun violence.
“That’s almost three people a day. Incredibly, that is more deaths than those due to vehicle accidents,” he said.
He then switched gears and spoke of the first responders who arrived at the active crime scene in Virginia Beach “in less than two minutes” and “acted to save lives.”
“Now, I am calling on the elected officials of this Commonwealth to become second responders,” he said to the members of the General Assembly. “Your duty is clear: rush to the scene, and put a stop to this violence. Heal our Commonwealth. Show Virginians that it doesn’t matter what party you are in, we are all Virginians first, and we care about the safety and security of every Virginian, no matter who they are or where they live.”