Gov. Northam to call special session to take up gun control laws

By Keya Vakil
June 4, 2019

In the wake of Friday’s deadly shooting in Virginia Beach, Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam told the Associated Press that he will recall state lawmakers to the Capitol in the coming weeks to take up a package of “urgently needed” gun control bills to prevent further mass shootings in the Commonwealth.

Northam told the AP that he wants the Republican-controlled General Assembly, which blocked roughly two dozen gun bills in this year’s legislative session, to hear from the public about the need for “common-sense” gun laws.

The shooting in Virginia Beach marked the deadliest mass shooting in the United States in 2019, and the deadliest in Virginia since the Virginia Tech massacre in 2007.

In the days since, many Virginia Democrats have renewed their call for stronger gun laws, pointing out that Republicans blocked SB 1748 in January. Had that bill passed, it would have banned sales of large-capacity magazines similar to those used by the Virginia Beach gunman.

The AP reports that Northam’s proposed bills will include legislation that explicitly bans such high capacity ammunition magazines, prohibits silencers, which the gunman also used, and mandates universal background checks on gun purchases.

Northam, a long-time advocate for gun reform, also wants to give local governments more latitude to ban guns in city buildings and limit purchases to one handgun per month.

In speaking about a spate of recent shootings across the state, including one that left a 9-year-old girl dead in Richmond, Northam told the AP it’s “an emergency here in Virginia, and it’s time to take action,” Northam said. “Every one of these pieces of legislation will save lives.”

Northam intends to make a formal announcement about a special session on Tuesday, and while he can legally call a special session, under Virginia law, the governor has no say in how it’s conducted.

State Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) indicated on Monday that his party might be willing to debate banning large-capacity magazines, according to the Virginia Gazette, but also told a group of protestors outside his office that “nothing would have helped us in Virginia Beach.”

It remains to be seen if Norment and his party actually soften their rigid stance on gun laws, a position which is out of step with the general public. A 2017 Quinnipiac poll found that 91% of Virginians support requiring background checks for all gun buyers.

No matter what happens in the special session, the gun reform debate is likely to heat up and become a critical issue heading into this fall’s November elections, when all 140 seats in the General Assembly are on the ballot.

  • Keya Vakil

    Keya Vakil is the deputy political editor at COURIER. He previously worked as a researcher in the film industry and dabbled in the political world.

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