RICHMOND, Va. — Republicans have canceled next week’s meeting of the State Crime Commission, at which they were to discuss recommendations to address gun violence, saying there’s no point because Democrat Gov. Ralph Northam wants to take up the issue in January, when the next General Assembly convenes.
Tuesday’s election gave Democrats control of both houses of the legislature and drastically changed the outlook for gun control in Virginia. Republicans had been trying to slow-walk any discussion of bills, but Northam said they are now a priority.
“As Governor Northam has made clear he is preparing a legislative package relating to these issues for when the General Assembly convenes two months from today, it would not be pragmatic for the Commission to continue its deliberations on these issues at this point,” Republican state Sen. Mark Obenshain, the crime commission chairman, said Friday in a statement.
After a gunman killed 12 people on May 31 in a Virginia Beach municipal building, Northam called a special legislative session to take up gun restrictions. Republicans who controlled the legislature duly convened in July but adjourned after only 90 minutes without debating a single bill.
Instead, they referred the 30-some bills that had been filed at that point to the State Crime Commission for review. The bipartisan commission, which is controlled by Republicans, met in August to formally hear those measures and dozens more proposed by lawmakers.
The Republican leadership promised to convene the commission again on Nov. 12 — after the election — to hear staff recommendations.
Republicans were opposed to measures advocated by Northam, such as closing the gun show loophole for background checks, banning assault-style weapons, limiting handgun purchases to one per month, and “red flag” provisions that allow authorities to seize weapons from someone deemed a danger to themselves or others. Such bills have been blocked for years by the Republican leadership, usually killed in subcommittees.
“The reality is this was always an attempt to stall real progress on common-sense gun safety measures,” said Northam’s spokeswoman, Alena Yarmosky. “Virginians are demanding real action to combat gun violence and save lives — that’s what they’ll get on day one of this new legislature.”
During this year’s campaigns for all 140 seats in the General Assembly, though, several Republican incumbents in suburban swing districts began signaling support for “common sense” gun control measures. A Washington Post-Schar School poll conducted shortly before the election showed gun policy to be the top concern of a majority of voters statewide.
The gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety, founded by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, poured more than $2.5 million into Virginia’s legislative races. Many Democrats made gun control a centerpiece of their campaigns.
“We also urge those gun lobby-backed lawmakers who campaigned on gun safety during the election to remember their campaign rhetoric and join the new majority in passing legislation that will save lives,” Everytown spokesman Andrew Zucker said.
Democrats have pledged to vote on a package of eight bills Northam had advocated over the summer, and the governor said he’d sign them.
“We will at least start with those,” Northam said earlier this week.
Obenshain said the crime commission will still issue its staff report on Tuesday.
— The Washington Post