Virginia General Assembly Special Session 2019 Statement

Mamie Locke

On Tuesday July 9, Virginia lawmakers reconvened in Richmond to implement new gun control policies. Governor Northam called for the special session following a mass shooting in a Virginia Beach municipal building on May 31st, 2019 that killed 12 people and left 4 others injured. Gov. Northam stated in a press release that Virginians deserve “votes and laws,” not “thoughts and prayers.”

The Governor had proposed eight pieces of legislation to combat gun violence in Virginia, including only being able to purchase one handgun a month, an extreme risk protective order bill, tighter restrictions on domestic abusers’ access to guns, and many others. Republican lawmakers also proposed their own bills, such as increasing mandatory minimums for crimes committed with guns present and legislation that codifies that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right, not militia.

Many protestors arrived at the Capitol – including groups that advocate for gun control such as Moms Demand Action and The Brady Group – and demanded that committee members bring these pieces of legislation to a floor vote as soon as possible. However, the legislative process was ended abruptly in both the Senate and House after only 90 minutes. Both chambers, led by Republicans, voted to adjourn until November 18, after the general election; an election in which all 140 seats in the Virginia General Assembly are up for re-election. Subsequently, over 40 pieces of the proposed legislation regarding the public safety of this state were deferred from the committees they were originally referred to, to the Crime Commission. This day went by without much discussion of the ways in which the Democratic proposed legislation could have positively impacted the current state of gun violence within the Commonwealth of Virginia.
The callous decision made by a handful of GOP Senators and Delegates to avoid voting on any of the more than 40 bills proposed to the General Assembly reflects on the cowardness of the party during an election season. It is hypocritical in nature to propose legislation requiring mandatory minimums for brandishing a firearm, while actively allowing NRA supporters to parade outside of the Virginia State Capital open carrying dangerous firearms and stickers stating that “guns save lives.”

It is deeply saddening that in 2019, Republican lawmakers are still incapable of coming together for the public safety of all Virginians. Republicans in the Virginia House and Senate neglected to carry forth their responsibilities as lawmakers by denying the opportunity for testimonies by gun violence survivors to be heard or even to be debated amongst their fellow committee members. They have failed in their responsibilities as legislators and have allowed NRA lobbyists to continue to control the Commonwealth’s approach to keeping Virginia residents safe from gun violence.

It is within our grasp to offer the State of Virginia more than thoughts and prayers. It is important going forward to continue to have the hard conversations necessary to bring about change in this state and to ensure the public safety of all Virginians. This news comes heavy and hard to hear, but this display can be received positively only if we understand that the work is not complete, and we have the power to make a difference. Please remember to vote in the upcoming election on November 5, 2019 so that a new, Democrat-controlled Virginia Assembly can implement the changes to make Virginia safer for all of us.


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