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General Assembly adjourns without voting on gun laws; bills to be reviewed by crime commission

Virginia Politics

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC/WAVY/AP) — The Virginia General Assembly has voted to adjourn until November, as Republicans rejected Democrats’ request to vote on a series of gun control measures.

Capitol Bureau reporter Sara McCloskey said on Twitter lawmakers voted to adjourn the session by a narrow margin of 20-18. Committee meetings are still happening as scheduled.

Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam called the Republican-led legislature to the Capitol to address gun violence in the wake of the May 31 attack that killed a dozen people in Virginia Beach.

The governor proposed a package of legislation — including the requirement for universal background checks, reinstating Virginia’s One Handgun a Month law and banning assault firearms — aimed at preventing “gun violence and improve the safety of Virginia’s citizens and communities.”

The governor released a statement after the General Assembly voted to adjourn saying in part, “I expected lawmakers to take this seriously.”

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.”

Gov. Ralph Northam

The meeting got off to a chaotic start, with the Republican Senate majority leader averting a mutiny in the GOP caucus by publicly disavowing a gun-control bill he proposedonly a day earlier.

Virginia Republicans had criticized the governor’s call for the special session, with House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) stating that Republicans would use the special session “to take productive steps to address gun violence by holding criminals accountable with tougher sentences — including mandatory minimums.”

House Speaker Kirk Cox said the session was premature because the shooting is still being investigated. “The whole thing is just an election-year stunt,” he said.

Anti gun demonstrators hold signs as they listen to speakers during a rally at the State Capitol in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, July 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) shocked his fellow Republicans by filing a bill that would ban guns in local government buildings in Virginia.

Norment’s bill, Senate Bill 4013, would also change current law and expand the restriction to all government buildings, not just courthouses. The measure would toughen the penalty for violators, changing it from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Norment said Tuesday he would ask that the bill be stricken in committee after Sen. Bill Stanley, the majority whip of the GOP Senate caucus, resigned from his position in protest.

“The whole deal about guns is an emotional issue,” Norment said about why he withdrew the bill. “If you read it, it is too broad. There is no extension for law enforcement having firearms in buildings and that didn’t make sense to me.” Norment would go onto say the bill was produced and dropped in the basket for bills to consider in the session too quickly.  

All of the bills presented Tuesday will be sent to a bipartisan crime commission made up of members of both parties from both the House of Delegates and Senate. The commission will also complete a “systematic review” of the May 31 Virginia Beach mass shooting. The FBI, Virginia Beach police and another independent investigation into the shooting had already been established.

“The investigation into these events is ongoing,” House Speaker Kirk Cox and Senator Norment wrote. “The Virginia Beach City Council recently authorized an independent investigation into the tragedy that hopefully will provide much-needed insight. The Crime Commission should carefully review any findings that are available because of the independent investigation as part of its effort.”

Private citizens who are also experts in law enforcement will weigh in on the bills as well. Cox and Norment set a July 19 deadline for legislation submitted for the special session to be considered by the crime commission, and the commission is slated to report its recommendations to the General Assembly on November 12.

“The Crime Commission is a widely-respected, bipartisan panel known for its substantive work on matters of public policy,” Speaker Cox noted. “The Commission has the resources and expertise to carefully examine the bills set forward in this session, the results of the investigations into the shootings in Virginia Beach, and come back with a detailed report just as the Virginia Tech Review Panel did.”

Outside the Capitol, Northam led a group of gun-control supporters chanting “Enough is enough!” It has become a refrain against gun violence at rallies nationwide after repeated mass shootings.

More than 200 protesters chanted, held signs, spoke through bull horns, and talked about “common sense gun laws.” Debra Ritger was there with the Peninsula Moms Demand Action group. “We are demanding action. We are demanding votes today, and action on common gun laws.”

Gun-control supporters began their demonstration on Capitol Square by reading out the names of the state’s recent gun violence victims, including those in Virginia Beach.

Gypsy Gonzalez, right, and Adam Root, of Richmond, hold weapons as well as a photo that was in Gov. Ralph Northam’s yearbook outside an office building at the State Capitol in Richmond, Va., Tuesday, July 9, 2019. (AP Photo/Steve Helber)

Others carried signs decrying the killings of children and shouted “You vote today, we vote in November.”

“We are not asking to just round up all the guns, we are asking for common sense gun laws,” said Rachelle Chapman. “We don’t have any need for military type style weapons. We don’t need silencers. We don’t need extended magazines. These are things that could have minimized what happened in Virginia Beach.”

Also at the protest was Vincent Smith, who worked on the third floor of Building 2 of the Virginia Beach Municipal Center and is pushing an online petition with more than 5,000 signatures.

“The petition says to take a look at city employees to carry guns while at work. Right now obviously we don’t have enough security in our buildings.” 

A smaller group of gun-rights advocates rallied across the Capitol lawn. They said many others were inside meeting with lawmakers and that a larger rally was planned Tuesday afternoon.

Some gun-rights advocates were walking around inside the Capitol with handguns in holsters openly visible, which is permitted. Visitors to the House gallery can keep their guns, and while they are not permitted on the Senate side, some lawmakers bring guns with them onto the floor.

Some people carried poster-sized signs of the photo that appeared on Northam’s yearbook page decades ago, showing one person wearing blackface and another the robe and cap of the Ku Klux Klan.

Standing across the street at the entrance of the Capitol was NRA member David White, from Roanoke. “I say we have enough gun laws. We have more than we have had at any point, and it is not doing any good.”   

John Wood said, “Who has come up with a common sense gun law that actually encompasses what the entire population represents? No one has done that, and they never will.” 

State Senator Bill Desteph and the Senate also remembered the 12 killed in Building 2 on Tuesday. “I want to introduce a bill related to the VB Strong license plates for those lost in the tragedy because across Virginia we are all VB Strong.” 

Copyright 2019 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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