Northam Calls Special Session to Address Gun Violence

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Governor Ralph Northam today announced that he will call members of the Virginia General Assembly into special session to consider gun control measures, following the Virginia Beach shooting that left 12 victims dead. The special session will take up many gun control measures that were blocked by GOP lawmakers during the most recent session.

“No one should go to work, to school, or to church wondering if they will come home,” said Northam. “But that is what our society has come to, because we fail to act on gun violence… I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.” The date of the special session has not yet been determined.

Northam’s announcement brought swift reactions from candidates and elected officials, including at least one Republican.

In Williamsburg, Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) addressed protesters outside his office said said: “I was in Virginia Beach yesterday, and I think there ought to be a meaningful discussion legislatively and in the community about gun control,” according to an account in the Virginia Gazette. He did not commit to any specific measures.

But House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) issued a statement saying the Governor “can call a special session, but 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. He charged the call for a special session “is more likely to inflame political tensions than produce substantive public policy changes that will keep people safe.”

Republican Party of Virginia Chairman Jack Wilson said the proposal was “disgusting.”
“We do not know why the perpetrator chose to take twelve innocent lives, and we do not know what, if any, bills would have prevented this. Governor Northam’s call for a special session is just a craven attempt to distract from his own blackface scandal,” Wilson said in an email.

Sen. Chap Petersen (D-Fairfax) said, “Doing nothing is no longer a viable option.”

In Northern Virginia, Dan Helmer, the Democratic nominee for the House of Delegates in Virginia’s 40th District, called on Delegate Tim Hugo (R-40) to support gun safety reforms.

“It is time for Delegate Tim Hugo to do the right thing and support legislation that will save lives,” said Helmer, a veteran of the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq. “Many of these tragedies are preventable, and it’s time for laws that limit magazine capacity, restrict the sale of silencers and military style assault rifles, return Virginia to the one-handgun-purchase-a-month standard, allow for extreme risk protective orders, and ensure a background check for every single gun sale in our commonwealth. I have no doubt these measures would have saved lives not only on Friday but everyday in our Commonwealth.”

“It is unconscionable to me that 70 pieces of gun safety legislation died in Committee this year in Virginia,” Helmer continued. “I am a veteran of our wars overseas. I’ve seen first hand the damage gun violence can do. But unlike my comrades in Iraq and Afghanistan, no one at Virginia Tech or at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center volunteered to serve in a war zone.”

The Virginia Tech massacre took 32 lives in 2007 when Seung-Hui Cho, a 23-year-old English major,  opened fire on students and faculty with two handguns. Seventeen people were wounded.

Thoughts and prayers not enough

In comments prepared for delivery today, Northam said it is “do more than give our thoughts and prayers. We must give Virginians the action they deserve.”

“As an Army doctor, I have seen firsthand what a bullet does to a body, and I saw it again this weekend, “Northam said. “It is wrong, it is outrageous, it is unforgivable to turn our municipal centers, our schools, our churches and synagogues and mosques, into battlefields. No one should go to work, to school, or to church wondering if they will come home. Our elementary school children regularly practice lockdown drills. That is what our society has come to, because we have failed to act on gun violence.

“It is wrong that we now view these mass shootings as the new normal. In fact, it is wrong that we view gun violence in general as the new normal. Tragic mass shootings draw our attention, but shootings happen in our communities every day. A 15-year-old boy was shot and killed in Norfolk Sunday. A little girl was shot and killed at a cookout in Richmond on Memorial Day weekend. Four people were shot, and one killed, in Portsmouth this past weekend.”

Northam said that in January, he had asked the Virginia General Assembly to ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds, to make background checks universal and to create an Extreme Risk Protective Order – a way for law enforcement to ask a court to keep guns away from someone who poses a substantial danger to themselves or others, a concept supported by President Trump’s  School Safety Task Force. He also asked lawmakers to reinstate Virginia’s “One Handgun a Month” policy and to institute tougher penalties for anyone who leaves a loaded gun around a child, and to require anyone whose gun has been stolen to report the theft within 24 hours.

“None of these ideas are radical. None of them violate the Second Amendment. None of them would impair any of my fellow Virginia hunters or sportsmen,” Northam said. “None of them would limit anyone from owning a gun who wasn’t a felon or a domestic abuser or declared by a judge to be a danger.”

None of the measures passed.

 

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James R. Hood
James R. Hood is the editor and publisher of FairfaxNews.com. A former Associated Press editor and executive, he has more than 50 years of reporting experience.