RICHMOND — In a replay of the aftermath of the August slaying of two broadcast journalists in southwest Virginia, Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Friday said stricter gun laws and an expansion of Medicaid to treat the mentally ill could curtail gun violence such as the deadly Oregon college shooting.
The rampage last week that left nine dead, plus gunman Chris Harper Mercer, is the latest in a series of attacks involving guns that have pushed politicians further to their partisan corners on gun control.
“Your heart goes out to them, all of those families today that are waking up realizing that their loved ones are gone,” McAuliffe (D) said during a call-in show on WTOP (103.5 FM).
Referring to the National Rifle Association, McAuliffe added, “At what point will these politicians stop being beholden to the NRA and do some common-sense things like background checks?”
McAuliffe has been outspoken on the issue, despite criticism that he used the tragedies to advance his policy agenda.
Two days after the shooting of the journalists, McAuliffe’s political action committee received $50,000 from former congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords’s Americans for Responsible Solutions, which advocates for stronger gun laws.
McAuliffe, who said he spoke with Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) on Thursday night, acknowledged that requiring background checks at gun shows would not have stopped the man who killed the two TV journalists at Smith Mountain Lake or others who have obtained guns legally.
“But it will stop some,” he said.
Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah), a criminal defense lawyer and former prosecutor, pushed back against McAuliffe’s call for stricter gun regulations and said it was insulting to suggest that lawmakers would be swayed by campaign contributions and pressure from the NRA.
Dealers who set up at gun shows must conduct background checks, but private citizens who want to sell guns “should be able to do that without the government being involved in that transaction,” Gilbert said in a phone interview.
He also rejected McAuliffe’s call in the past week to bar firearms possession by people who are under protective abuse orders, or who have been convicted of domestic violence and stalking misdemeanors.
Such laws would not deter those bent on murder from killing their partners, Gilbert said.
“I just wonder why the focus is always on guns rather than efforts to identify people who are truly in crisis and try to empower them,” Gilbert said.
In response to callers to the radio show who noted that many shooters have suffered from mental illness, McAuliffe said that expanding Medicaid would provide millions of dollars for treatment.
“I’m trying,” he said. “But the same people who are against trying to bring common-sense gun restrictions are the same people who won’t give funding to deal with those individuals with severe mental illness.”
The overwhelmingly Republican House of Delegates has blocked McAuliffe’s repeated attempts to expand Medicaid to 400,000 uninsured Virginians under the federal Affordable Care Act. They say that the financial burden from enlarging the government program would eventually shift to the states.