Virginia Special Session Ends Without New Gun Laws

NRA, VCDL applaud while Everytown, Democrats fume

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam / Getty Images
July 10, 2019

The Virginia legislature adjourned its special session on Tuesday without any votes on gun measures while Republican leaders labeled Gov. Ralph Northam's decision to call the session "an election-year stunt."

The Republican-controlled House of Delegates and Senate decided to refer the more than 30 bills filed as part of the session to the bipartisan Virginia State Crime Commission for further review. They will then be considered the next time the legislature meets on November 18—after the state's next election.

"The call for this session was premature," House Speaker Kirk Cox (R., Colonial Heights) told the Washington Post.

Northam forced the Republican-controlled legislature to hold the session in the wake of the May 31 Virginia Beach shooting where 12 people were murdered. He proposed the legislature take up essentially the same gun control package he had proposed, and seen defeated, earlier in the year. It was the first major public initiative from the governor after a racist picture was discovered in his medical school yearbook back in January.

Republicans and gun rights activists labeled the governor's renewed push for new gun control measures, including banning and confiscating potentially millions of guns, a "distraction" and "stunt" designed to take the attention off of his refusal to resign after the racist photo surfaced.

The National Rifle Association applauded the legislature for its handling of the session and chided Northam for calling the session in the first place.

"The National Rifle Association has a long history of working to reduce violent crime rates within the Commonwealth of Virginia," Jason Ouimet, acting executive director of the group’s Institute for Legislative Action, said in a statement. "We commend the House and Senate Republican leadership for renewing the focus on putting violent criminals behind bars and a much needed refocus on mental health initiatives. Without a final report on the Virginia Beach investigation, this special session by Gov. Northam was a complete taxpayer-funded distraction. The discussion before the Virginia Crime Commission should focus on solutions that provide strong due process and puts a stop to the continued politicization of law-abiding individual’s constitutional rights."

The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) said the legislature chose the right approach by referring the bills to the Crime Commission because they believe it will result in better legislation.

"We think the Republicans did the right thing," Philip Van Cleave, the group's president, told the Washington Free Beacon. "The tool used in a crime or a suicide is not the problem, it is the person using the tool. To really find a solution to either is going to need extensive study and an honest approach."

In a message after the legislature adjourned, VCDL claimed activism from supporters who flooded the capitol turned the tide against new gun control measures.

"VCDL thanks all of you who attended Lobby Day today," Van Cleave said in an email to supporters. "The line to enter the General Assembly wrapped around the building! Our eighteen lobbying teams and other members where everywhere. It was a wonderful sight to behold! Thanks also to those who could not attend today, but who sent those emails and made those telephone calls! Your efforts, too, made a difference.

"Do I think the flood of gun owners at Lobby Day and the barrage of emails made a difference? YES!"

Democrats and gun control groups claimed the lack of votes on new gun control measures was evidence Virginia Republicans were controlled by the NRA.

"The Republicans in this state are totally controlled—I mean 100 percent controlled—by the National Rifle Association," Senate minority leader Richard L. Saslaw (D., Fairfax) told the Post.

"Our lawmakers should be ashamed of themselves," Sibel Galindez, Virginia Beach resident and a Moms Demand Action volunteer, said in a statement. "Today was an opportunity for state legislators to do something about the shootings that are tearing our communities apart. Instead, they played partisan games and caved to NRA pressure."

They said their focus would now be on flipping control of both the House of Delegates and Senate to Democrats in order to pass new gun control bills.

"It's time for new legislative leaders in Richmond, and Everytown and Moms Demand Action are all-in on electing a gun safety majority this fall in the Commonwealth," John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said in a statement.

"It's time to vote out lawmakers who have shown us, time after time, that they don’t have the heart or the backbone to stand up for public safety by strengthening our gun laws," Galindez said.

Gun rights groups also focused on the elections as pivotal in the fight over guns. Van Cleave said gun rights supporters need to not just hold seats but take back the ones lost in the last election if they want to ensure new gun control measures aren’t passed.

"If gun owners do not get active in the upcoming elections in November, it will be disastrous," he said in the email to supporters. "The balance of power between pro-self-defense legislators and anti-self-defense legislators is truly razor thin in both the House and the Senate. We MUST get back the seats lost in the last election. If the Democrat leadership takes control of the House and Senate, we are going to see massive amounts of gun control coming our way. It could transform Virginia as we know it."

Still, he said Tuesday's victory was important none the less.

"The battle is not over, but today was an important day for the citizens of the Commonwealth of Virginia," Van Cleave told supporters.