Northam's Call for Special Session on Gun Control Met with Republican Pushback
RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - Governor Ralph Northam is calling for Virginia lawmakers to reconvene in Richmond for a special session to address gun violence. The push for more gun control comes after a mass shooting in Virginia Beach last week.
Many of the gun measures suggested by Northam on Tuesday have failed in the Republican-controlled General Assembly. Now, the Governor is asking lawmakers to put aside party differences to prevent more mass shootings.
Northam made the announcement on Tuesday morning alongside Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax, Attorney General Mark Herring, and other members of the Democratic Party. Northam is proposing universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons, including suppressors and bump stocks, and reinstating the one-gun-a-month law.
“It is wrong that we now view these mass shootings as the new normal,” Northam said. “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.”
Northam said he wants members of the General Assembly to "engage in an open and transparent debate" during the special session. In a tweet sent on Tuesday, Northam said he will be asking for "votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers."
"If we can save one life because we acted now, it is worth it," Northam said.
In a statement, GOP Speaker Kirk Cox described Northam’s call for a special session as “hasty and suspect when considered against the backdrop of the last few months” – a reference to the racist yearbook photo scandal. However, Cox said Republicans will put forward legislation to toughen penalties and set mandatory minimum sentences for firearm crimes.
Other opponents of Northam say he is using a tragedy in Virginia Beach as a political tactic, but Northam says he’s calling the special session to "save lives.”
"I am beyond heartbroken that Virginia Beach is the lasting community in America to be touched by the pain and inexplicable violence of a mass shooting," Herring said. "Life doesn't have to be this way and it shouldn't be this way. Through inaction caused by party obstruction, we are forcing an entire generation of young people to grow up with the trauma of mass shootings."
Virginia Beach now joins a long list of places coping with loss, including Blacksburg - where the shooting at Virginia Tech happened in 2007.
"We have a serious issue and we must take serious action to resolve," Fairfax said.
Virginia Senators Tim Kaine and Mark Warner released statements in support of Northam's call for a special session. Warner said on Twitter that he hopes "legislators will come to Richmond with a willingness to find common ground on ways to reduce gun violence." Kaine drew on his experiences has the state's governor after the Virginia Tech shooting to praise Northam.
“I applaud Governor Northam, who has seen the carnage of gun violence as a pediatrician, for calling the General Assembly to gather in a special session to find solutions. It’s painfully clear from the horrific shooting in Virginia Beach and the daily scourge of gun violence in communities across the Commonwealth that Virginia must pass commonsense gun safety reforms. When I was Governor following the tragedy at Virginia Tech, we made some progress to fix a flaw in the background record check system that allowed the shooter to purchase a weapon, but when we tried to do more to strengthen background checks, Republicans blocked our efforts. There’s a lot of unfinished business to make our communities safer. We need more than thoughts and prayers; we need action.”
Republican Delegates Steve Landes and Rob Bell were reached out to for comment, but have not responded. A date for the special session is expected to be announced in the coming days.
06/04/2019 Press Release from the Office of Governor Ralph Northam:
RICHMOND—Governor Ralph Northam today announced that he will call members of the Virginia General Assembly into special session for the purpose of addressing gun violence in the Commonwealth.
“No one should go to work, to school, or to church wondering if they will come home,” said Governor 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.”
Governor Northam will announce the date of the special session in the coming days. His remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below. The governor’s remarks are also available on Facebook, here.
REMARKS AS PREPARED FOR DELIVERY:
Thank you, Secretary Moran. Good morning. Thanks to all of you for being in attendance. I’d like to start by thanking all of our first responders, state and local police, and public health and state officials for all that you do. It has been a long few days here in the Commonwealth.
12 years after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech, our Commonwealth has suffered another terrible tragedy.
Once more first responders displayed heroism, and ordinary Virginians showed extraordinary courage and compassion.
Once more, hearts are broken, lives are shattered, and families are crushed.
Once more, a community is in shock and pain and grief.
And once more we will hear folks offer their thoughts and prayers.
We do appreciate and need them. As I said this weekend in Virginia Beach, God is in control.
But we must do more than give our thoughts and prayers. We must give Virginians the action they deserve.
Virginia is heartbroken. We are heartbroken for the families who have lost their loved ones. Their lives are forever changed. The pain and suffering that Virginia Beach is experiencing is the same pain communities across Virginia and around the country suffer every day due to gun violence.
As an Army doctor, I have seen firsthand what a bullet does to a body, and I saw it again this weekend. I can’t imagine the devastation these families are suffering.
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.
It is past time to change it.
Back in January, I asked the Virginia General Assembly to work with me to stop this violence. I asked them to ban magazines that hold more than 10 rounds.
I asked them to make background checks universal—a policy that 90 percent of the public supports. I asked them 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 own School Safety Task Force.
I asked them to reinstate Virginia’s successful “One Handgun a Month” policy. I asked for 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.
And I have supported, and will continue to support, legislation giving localities more authority to regulate firearms, including in their own government buildings.
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.
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.
And none of them passed. In fact, some failed with just four votes against them in small subcommittees.
We lost 1,028 Virginians due to gun violence in 2017. That’s almost three people a day. Incredibly, that is more deaths than those due to vehicle accidents.
This weekend’s tragedy, as well as the tragedies that happen every day across Virginia, must instill in us a new level of urgency to act. If we can save one life because we acted now, it is worth it.
And so, by the power vested in me by Article IV, Section 6, and Article V, Section 5 of the Constitution of Virginia, I will summon the members of the Senate and the House of Delegates to meet in Special Session for the purpose of passing common sense public safety laws.
I will propose many of the same ideas that we have proposed before:
- Universal background checks;
- A ban on assault weapons, to include suppressors and bump stocks;
- An extreme risk protective order;
- Reinstating the one-gun-a-month law;
- Child access prevention;
- Requiring people to report lost and stolen firearms; and
- Expanding local authority to regulate firearms, including in government buildings.
I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.
And I ask that the Members of the General Assembly engage in an open and transparent debate, and that the bills brought before the legislature are put to a vote by the entire General Assembly.
That is why our legislators are voted into office and sent to Richmond.
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. Virginians deserve leadership, and they will be watching. The nation will be watching.
From the moment the first shots were fired in Virginia Beach, our first responders knew what to do. They rushed to the sound of the gunfire. They responded in less than two minutes to the shooting. Our first responders acted to save lives—and indeed, they did save lives.
Now, I am calling on the elected officials of this Commonwealth to become second responders. 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.
There will be those—there are already those—who say it’s too soon after the tragedy to talk about responses. I would ask those people, when is the right time?
Delay only means what it always means—that there will be a next time, another tragedy, more deaths of innocent people, and when it happens, those same voices will again proclaim that it is too soon to talk about protecting our citizens.
I want this to be the last time.
I know this will be hard. Doing the right thing is often hard. But this work is not nearly as difficult as the task ahead for the Virginia Beach families who now have to carry on. Or for the more than a thousand Virginia families who lost a loved one due to gun violence.
It is right to respond to this tragedy with decisive action. Let Virginia set an example for the nation that we can respond to tragedy with action. That we can turn pain into purpose.
Let’s get to work.