Gun Groups Mobilize for Virginia Special Session

Gun-rights, gun-control supporters plan to flood Richmond on Tuesday

March for Our Lives rally in Las Vegas, Nevada / Getty Images
July 8, 2019

Gun groups from each side of the aisle are mobilizing their followers for the special session of the Virginia legislature on Tuesday.

The National Rifle Association, Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL), Brady United Against Gun Violence, and March for Our Lives have all announced plans to bring supporters to the capital to lobby for their preferred gun legislation. Members of the groups will descend on Richmond July 9 as the Virginia legislature begins a special session called by embattled Governor Ralph Northam (D) in the wake of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach. Northam wants the legislature to consider a gun-control package featuring a plan to ban and confiscate certain guns similar to what he proposed earlier this year. That proposal was defeated by the Republican-controlled house and senate.

Republican leaders, however, have signaled they will not take up the governor's preferred gun bills. Kirk Cox, the Republican speaker of Virginia's House of Delegates, tweeted shortly after Northam's call for the special session that the house would consider their own solutions to gun crime.

"The Governor's call to Special Session is hasty and suspect when considered against the backdrop of the last few months," Cox said in a statement. "While the Governor can call a special session, he cannot specify what the General Assembly chooses to consider or how we do our work. We intend to use that time to take productive steps to address gun violence by holding criminals accountable with tougher sentences—including mandatory minimums."

Gun-rights groups are planning to make sure the paper-thin Republican majority in both houses holds the line against new gun-control measures while they pursue gun-rights bills. The NRA and VCDL are holding events with their members on Tuesday.

VCDL will be busing activists from around the state to the capital in order to lobby lawmakers from 9 a.m. to noon, at which time they will hold a rally at the Bell Tower in Capital Square. The activists will then attend committee and subcommittee hearings in the afternoon. VCDL president Philip Van Cleave told the Washington Free Beacon he is expecting over a thousand members to show up.

"Our goal is to make Virginia a safer place," he said. "We have some gun bills that we're going to be pushing that would have most likely prevented what happened in Virginia Beach and Virginia Tech. That is allowing people with concealed handgun permits to carry at work even if they work for the government."

Van Cleave said the group is spending $50,000 on ads related to fighting the proposed gun-control bills and pushing their own alternatives.

The NRA is holding a legislative action meeting in the house conference room of Richmond's Pocahontas building between 9 a.m. and noon. The meeting is the latest in a series of events the gun-rights group has held in opposition to the governor's gun-control plan. In addition to activating their field representatives, the NRA has also held town halls with Virginia representatives in Belle Haven, Virginia Beach, Ashland, and Fredericksburg.

"The National Rifle Association's strength comes from our nearly 5 million members and their passion for our Second Amendment freedoms," Catherine Mortensen, an NRA spokesperson, told the Free Beacon. "Our members are concerned that Gov. Northam's special session is a political stunt aimed at distracting from his scandals. They know that not a single one of Gov. Northam's gun-control measures would have prevented the tragedy at Virginia Beach. The NRA is calling for lawmakers to get serious about improving public safety by addressing the underlying issues such as our broken mental health system."

Gun-control groups are mobilizing their supporters as well. Brady is partnering with March for Our Lives to provide buses to activists in Northern Virginia and D.C. The two groups are also organizing their own rally at the capital between 10 a.m. and noon.

"NRA-backed Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment and Speaker Kirk Cox have indicated they WON'T bring gun safety legislation to a floor vote," Kris Brown, president of Brady, said in an email to supporters. "We can't let this happen. I need your help to urge Norment and Cox to allow a floor vote on gun safety!"

"It'll be a big event if something gets out of committee, either on our side or on their side," VCDL's Van Cleave said. "We'll be on top of that. The truth is, you never know with these things. Sometimes people vote one way when they know there's no way a bill will ever become law and then, suddenly, when a bill could become law they'll vote differently. I've seen that happen."