Wednesday, July 10, 2019

Va. gun-control special session ends after 90 minutes

A special legislative session in Virginia meant to address gun-control laws ended in less than two hours on Tuesday after the Republican-led General Assembly adjourned the session and postponed action on gun laws until after the November election. "It was a familiar outcome in a stalled debate that plays out yearly in Virginia on an issue that has divided the nation for more than two decades," Alan Suderman and Sarah Rankin report for The Associated Press.

Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, called for the session after a May 31 shooting in Virginia Beach that killed 12. He hoped to have enough support from Republicans to overcome the GOP's razor-thin majority in both chambers and pass some of the eight measures he proposed. "But not a single vote was cast on the legislation. Republican leaders said the session was premature and politically motivated. They assigned the state’s bipartisan crime commission to study the Virginia Beach shooting and the governor’s proposed legislation," Suderman and Rankin report.

The session was fraught with drama even before it began. On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment filed a surprise bill that would broadly ban guns in any government building in the state. Fellow Senate Republicans were horrified, and Sen. Bill Stanley resigned as majority whip in protest. Then Norment withdrew the bill, apologized, and reinstated Stanley, Suderman and Rankin report.

Both parties lambasted each other over the session. Republicans accused Northam of using the session to distract voters from the recent blackface scandal. The proposed measures, they said, would not have prevented the Virginia Beach shooting, and said the governor should have created a commission to study gun and mental health issues. U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, then Virginia's governor, did something similar after a 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech. After that shooting, "the state passed a law prohibiting people deemed seriously mentally ill from buying a gun. But a push at the time for universal background checks failed," Suderman and Rankin report.

Democrats, in turn, "said Republicans were beholden to the gun lobby and afraid of passing common-sense laws they know will save lives," Suderman and Rankin report. "Virginia is generally considered a gun-friendly state and is home to the NRA headquarters. The GOP-led General Assembly has spiked numerous gun-control bills — including several Northam proposed for the special session — year after year."

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