RICHMOND — Gov. Terry McAuliffe has rankled some Virginia Republicans by repeatedly calling for greater gun control after Wednesday’s deadly shootings in Southwest Virginia.
“Clearly, that gentleman should not have owned a gun,” McAuliffe said of Vester L. Flanagan II, who killed a two-person news crew on live television early Wednesday. “That’s plain and simple. That was a tragedy. Now, I have no idea if any new gun laws would have changed that, we don’t know, but my job as governor is to do everything I humanly possibly can do to make our communities safe.”
Several Republican legislators took to Twitter to blast McAuliffe for what one called his “shameless politicization of tragedy” — particularly because closing the gun show loophole, a gun control measure McAuliffe mentioned, wouldn’t have kept the gun out of Flanagan’s hands.
“I thought it was extremely unfortunate that while the family is still in shock at this news and while a manhunt is still actively underway, that the governor saw fit to try to advance his legislative agenda,” said Deputy House Majority Leader C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah). “The even more unfortunate thing is that the agenda that the governor cited apparently has nothing to do with the facts of this tragic case. . . . If we’re going to try to fix problems that are the ills of our society, we should focus on things that are actually relevant to these tragedies.”
Flanagan legally purchased the Glock 9mm pistol used in the shootings from a federally licensed dealer in Virginia, said Thomas A. Faison, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Faison declined to disclose whether the sale took place at a store or at a gun show, but he said the dealer conducted a background check on Flanagan. There was nothing in Flanagan’s criminal or mental-health history that should have prohibited the sale, Faison said.
“He wouldn’t have gotten it otherwise,” Faison said.
Dealers are required to conduct background checks, even at gun shows, but that requirement does not apply to private sellers at shows in Virginia. McAuliffe has pushed for closing that loophole.
The governor renewed his call for mandatory background checks during a radio interview Wednesday, just hours after Flanagan had fatally shot two former co-workers, WDBJ7 reporter Alison Parker and cameraman Adam Ward, and seriously injured another person, Vicki Gardner, a local chamber of commerce official who was being interviewed.
McAuliffe repeated the message Thursday morning during a live appearance on CNN and, after a budget speech in Richmond two hours later, addressed the issue a third time.
While he said he agrees that the tragedy should not be politicized, the double homicide has given the governor a reason to raise one of the issues on which he based his 2013 campaign.
In the TV interview, McAuliffe said Virginians are particularly attuned to the devastating combination of gun violence and mental illness after enduring the mass shooting at Virginia Tech and empathizing with Sen. Creigh Deeds (D-Bath), whose son, Gus, stabbed the senator before killing himself in 2013.
“This is not political,” McAuliffe said. “I have long advocated — when I ran for governor I was probably the most aggressive candidate ever in Virginia history talking about safe, common-sense gun restrictions.”
His political action committee shared a link to the interview with the media, as did a spokesman in the governor’s office.
McAuliffe, a longtime friend and booster of Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton, said he disagreed with GOP presidential candidate Donald Trump when he said the nation shouldn’t make it harder for people to purchase guns.
Later in the morning, McAuliffe recounted for reporters a lengthy phone call with Alison Parker’s father, Andy Parker, who ran unsueccessfully as a Democrat for the House of Delegates in 2007. The governor said Parker raised the issue unprompted.
“He begged me to please, please, please help us keep Virginia safer,” he told reporters.
McAuliffe added that more gun laws would make Virginia safer and therefore more attractive to businesses in a way that could strengthen the state’s economy.
On Wednesday, during a previously scheduled appearance on the “Ask the Governor” show on WTOP, McAuliffe expressed sorrow for the victims and gave updates on the then-ongoing pursuit of the shooter. He also called for tighter gun control and criticized the General Assembly for failing to support his proposals.
Del. David I. Ramadan (R-Loudoun), whose wife hails from Franklin County, where the shooting took place, also criticized McAuliffe.
“Shamefully, the governor made this into a gun issue even before getting the facts,” Ramadan said. “He went out and started talking about the gun show loophole even though this tragic situation has nothing to do with gun shows and loopholes.”McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy said the delegates were the ones playing politics.
“The United States has averaged more than one mass shooting per day in the year 2015,” Coy said. “In a country where these incidents happen virtually every day, when do these delegates think would be a good time to have this conversation?” Coy said. “Virginians need real leadership on these issues, not more petty partisan sniping.”