Special Session to Debate Gun Laws Adjourned, Pushed to November
RICHMOND, Va. (WVIR) - Virginia lawmakers held a special session in Richmond Tuesday to debate and vote on new gun laws, but within two hours the session was adjourned.
Following the Virginia Beach mass shooting which killed 12 people on May 31, Governor Ralph Northam (D) ordered lawmakers to return for a special session of the General Assembly. He called for passage of a wide range of gun-control measures. He proposed eight changes to state law including universal background checks on all firearm sales, a ban on assault weapons, and allowing localities to ban firearms from municipal buildings.
In the lead up to the session, Republican leaders who control the legislature signaled they wouldn't pass gun controls, focusing instead on increasing criminal penalties after gun crimes. GOP lawmakers criticized the governor as trying to exploit a tragedy for political gain.
Tuesday, within two hours of convening the special session, Republicans moved to adjourn, pushing things off until November. Republican leadership announced they are directing the Virginia State Crime Commission to undertake a systematic review of the Virginia Beach shootings and the legislation submitted for the 2019 special session.
“When we had committee meetings, of course, there were complaints that it wasn't thoughtful, there wasn't a chance for people to present information, it wasn't by-camera, it wasn't bipartisan. If you're looking for a panel that can do that, the crime commission is as good as any,” said 58th District Delegate Rob Bell (R). "What we want to do is have a group that can look at these measures, not in the moment by moment down here, but actually have a chance to look at them.”
Democrats, including the governor, say what Republicans did Tuesday was shameful and pathetic. But, the General Assembly is controlled by the GOP, so they make the rules.
"I'm disappointed but I'm not surprised. I think that the Republican leadership has been trying to figure out a way around discussing these issues prior to the election and that's very unfortunate,”stated 57th District Delegate David Toscano (D). "Clearly they don't really want to have that discussion about gun safety until after the election. Why? It's not clear to me other than they believe Virginians aren't going to like it."
Governor Ralph Northam issued the following statement after the adjournment:
“I called legislators back to Richmond for this special session so we could take immediate action to address the gun violence emergency that takes more than a thousand Virginians’ lives each year. I expected lawmakers to take this seriously. I expected them to do what their constituents elected them to do - discuss issues and take votes.
An average of three Virginians die each day due to gun violence. That means hundreds of Virginians may die between today and November 18, the next day the legislature plans to work.
It is shameful and disappointing that Republicans in the General Assembly refuse to do their jobs, and take immediate action to save lives. I expected better of them. Virginians expect better of them.”
Attorney General Mark R. Herring issued the following statement:
“That was pathetic. Virginians deserve better. There were important measures introduced that could save lives and keep Virginians safe, like universal background checks, a ban on high capacity magazines, silencers, bump stocks, and assault weapons, a reinstatement of the one handgun a month law, and red flag laws.
But instead of a thoughtful discussion about how to keep our communities safe, Republicans in the General Assembly packed up and went home, but not before making sure they got paid for the day.
For years Republicans have hidden behind subcommittees to block these bills and duck accountability. This time they didn’t even pretend.”
The General Assembly is adjourned until November 18. In the meantime, Republicans have set a July 19 deadline for legislation for the Virginia State Crime Commission to consider. The commission will report to lawmakers after November 12.