Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) will call legislators back into session in Richmond to consider a sweeping new package of gun safety legislation, just days after a city employee murdered a dozen people at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.
Northam said Tuesday he would ask legislators to pass a sweeping package of gun safety reforms, including expanding background checks and limits on “silencers,” devices that suppress the sounds of gunshots like the one the gunman used.
“We must do more than give our thoughts and prayers. We must give Virginians the action they deserve,” Northam said at a press conference in Richmond. “This weekend’s tragedy, as well as the tragedies that happen every day across Virginia must instill in us new urgency to act.”
Northam said he would ask legislators to approve so-called red flag legislation that would allow a court to take guns away from those who pose a danger to themselves and others. He wants the General Assembly to reinstate a rule limiting gun purchases to one a month, and to pass new bans on assault weapons and bump stocks.
“I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers. And I ask that members of the general assembly engage in open and transparent debate,” Northam said.
The special session threatens to inject the heated debate over gun violence and safety into a fraught election season that is only just getting underway. All 40 state Senate seats and all 100 seats in the House of Delegates are up for election this year.
Republicans control the state Senate by a narrow 21-19 margin. They control the House of Delegates by an equally narrow 51-49 margin, after Democrats made big gains in 2017. This year’s elections will be held under new district lines, ordered by a federal court, in which Democrats are favored to reclaim seats.
A package of gun safety bills died in the Virginia House of Delegates in January. Republicans voted along party lines to defeat more than a dozen Democratic proposals, including those Northam said he would reintroduce during the special session.
The House of Delegates also blocked bills to allow localities to prohibit guns in libraries and government buildings, like the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. Universal background checks and limits on gun purchases also failed.
“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,” Northam said. “None of them passed. In fact, some failed with just four votes against them in small subcommittees.”
The National Rifle Association and the Virginia Citizens Defense League both lobbied hard against those measures.
— Rachel Frazin contributed to this report, which was updated at 10:26 a.m.
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