ABINGDON, Va. — Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam predicts wins for his proposed gun legislation when the General Assembly returns next month, but Southwest Virginia lawmakers think otherwise.
Northam called the July 9 special session days after a Virginia Beach city employee shot and killed 12 co-workers on May 31 in a city building designated a “gun-free” zone.
The governor proposed a series of new laws including: universal background checks on all gun sales, not just those by licensed dealers; a ban on “assault weapons;” limiting the capacity of gun magazines; a ban on suppressors and bump stocks for assault weapons; establishing an extreme risk protective order initiated by law enforcement that would temporarily deny an individual’s access to guns; reinstating a law to limit handgun purchases to one per month; preventing children’s access to firearms until age 18; requiring people to report lost and stolen firearms; and expanding local authority to regulate firearms, including inside government buildings.
“I hope they [lawmakers] have a thorough discussion on the pieces of legislation that we introduced, and I hope they have the opportunity to vote. I am confident if our delegates and senators have the opportunity to vote on these bills on the floor of the House and Senate then these common-sense pieces of gun legislation will pass,” the governor said last Wednesday during a stop in Abingdon.
He called the situation an “emergency.”
“There are different opinions, but we have a problem, we have an emergency in Virginia right now,” Northam said. “As governor, I feel the need to bring people back to Richmond and really have a discussion on these pieces of legislation. I have asked the speaker of the House to ask that all 100 delegates and all 40 senators vote on these pieces of legislation because that’s what they’re elected to do, and we want to keep Virginia safe.”
He also is “open to any proposal that would help keep Virginians safe.”
Area lawmakers claim the package tramples on Second Amendment rights.
Retiring Sen. Bill Carrico, R-Galax, said he is ready to debate the legislation.
“I want to be clear. My heart breaks for the friends and families of those who were killed in this tragedy and for all those who are impacted by gun violence,” Carrico said in a written statement. “However, the way you stop a mad man with a gun is not by making it harder for law-abiding citizens to protect themselves.”
Carrico pledged to oppose the governor’s legislation.
“I will not support any measure brought before the General Assembly that will infringe upon our constitutional rights afforded by the Second Amendment. All too often, these reactionary policy proposals only bring harm to the rights of law-abiding citizens, rather than collaboratively looking at ways to curb the type of violence that it purports to combat,” Carrico said.
Speaking last week at a public meeting on this topic, Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Lebanon, said none would have stopped the Virginia Beach tragedy.
“There is nothing in Virginia Beach, nothing in our law, nothing in our toolbox, nothing you’re offering now that would have saved those people in Virginia Beach,” Chafin told Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security Brian Moran, who represented the governor at a public meeting earlier in June.
Chafin described people in gun-free zones as “sitting ducks” because anyone who intends to harm them expects little to no resistance.
Fourth District Del. Todd Pillion, R-Abingdon, called the Virginia Beach incident heartbreaking.
“Police have stated there is no law that could have been passed that would have prevented this tragedy, and the governor admitted as much earlier this week,” Pillion said. “When we convene, I’ll continue to stand up for my constituents’ Second Amendment rights by opposing the gun control agenda that is being pushed for the second time this year. Addressing this violence in our society starts by reforming our mental health system and holding criminals accountable for their actions, not undermining the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens.”
Sixth District Del. Jeffrey Campbell, R-Marion, also doubts the special session will be productive, since some of the legislation was rejected during the regular session. He specifically cited extreme risk protection orders as something he would be opposed to, saying he didn’t think such a law was “constitutionally firm.”
“I understand the need to have the public discourse. … The world doesn’t exist in a vacuum politically. Obviously there’s an election cycle this fall, and I think that’s probably what’s driving, quite frankly, the desire to convene the special session. I think that’s unfortunate because again this is very fresh in the people’s minds there that were affected in Virginia Beach.”