Virginia Governor Ralph Northam instituted a special session of the state's legislature Tuesday, July 9 for the stated purpose of enacting new gun control laws. Gun rights supporters won the day as Republican lawmakers, who tenuously control both houses of the law-making body, were able to stop it in its tracks, suspending consideration of the bills until the regular session in the fall.
Well over a dozen different bills were filed, offering a Vegas-sized buffet of anti-gun rights advocates' wishes and wants. A limited sample includes a "Red Flag" law that allows police to seize firearms with little to no due process, one gun a month purchase limits, and legislation that would allow counties and municipalities the right to enact their own gun control laws. Legislators introduced several pro-gun rights bills, but this session was to be about restricting the rights of Virginians, not expanding them.
Northam announced the emergency session in the wake of a Memorial Day massacre in Virginia Beach, where 12 people were murdered by a municipal employee on a rampage. "If we can save one life because we acted now, it is worth it." The Virginia legislature starts sessions in January and finishes no later than 60 calendar days afterward, but there is a provision in the commonwealth's constitution for the Governor to institute a new one:
"The Governor may convene a special session of the General Assembly when, in his opinion, the interest of the Commonwealth may require …"
Republicans hold a 51-48 majority in the House of Delegates and a 20-19 edge in the Senate, with one vacancy in each chamber. That was enough to put a stop to the special session on party-line votes in both houses. They referred the various pieces of legislation to appropriate committees. Those bills will be voted on in the 2020 session if they are passed out of committee – which they are unlikely to since so many have already been voted down in committee this very year. From January:
A Republican-led subcommittee in the Virginia House of Delegates voted down more than a dozen Democratic gun control bills Thursday, including a red-flag proposal endorsed by President Donald Trump's school safety committee.
In a packed hearing room, Republicans on a House Militia, Police and Public Safety subcommittee used their 4-2 majority to methodically defeat the gun bills over the course of more than two hours.
Governor Northam became nationally known earlier this year when his medical school yearbook seemed to show him in blackface. That, combined with the legislature's recent consideration of often identical legislation, fueled criticism that politics was the prime motivator behind the session rather than public safety. Virginia Institute for Public Policy president Lynn Taylor* called it a political move, noting that "not one of the proposed laws would have changed the outcome in Virginia Beach."
GOP Drama – Tempest In A Teapot
Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) shocked his fellow Republicans by filing a bill just before the session that would ban guns in local government buildings in Virginia.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League**, a powerful gun rights advocacy group, sent out an email in the wee hours before the session, announcing "VA-ALERT: LEGISLATIVE ACTION ITEM: Senator Tommy Norment stabs gun owners in the back!" Norment had introduced a bill that would treat all local government buildings like a courthouse, generally banning firearms for everyone but government officials. That sentiment seemed to be completely reversed by the end of the day, when the group sent an email stating:
Senator Norment explained that the bill was incorrectly drafted due to a communication issue between himself and Legislative Services. VCDL thanks Senator Norment for doing the right thing and striking that bad gun-bill from the docket!