LEGISLATION THAT would ban sales of high-capacity gun magazines such as those used in last week’s mass shooting in Virginia Beach was first introduced in Virginia in 2011. The impetus then was the shooting in Tucson of then-Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) and 18 other people. The gunman in that murderous rampage had used a 33-round magazine and was stopped only when he paused to reload, giving a group of heroic bystanders the chance to wrestle him to the ground. If he had had to reload earlier, maybe six people would not have died.
But the bill never made it out of committee. Neither did a similar bill just this past January. Many other common-sense gun-safety measures have been squelched by the Republican-controlled General Assembly over the years. Universal background checks, a one-per-month limit on handgun purchases, red-flag laws that would allow police to take weapons from people deemed to pose a threat — Republican legislators routinely ensure that most don’t even get a vote on the floor of either house.
Now, Virginia is mourning 12 more innocent lives senselessly lost to gun violence — 12 people slaughtered as they went about their business at a municipal center in Virginia Beach. Legislative inaction should not be acceptable to anyone, as Gov. Ralph Northam (D) made clear Tuesday . Flanked by Democratic officeholders, Mr. Northam announced he would call a special session to consider gun-control reforms.
No date has been set, but the end of June is being eyed. The governor said he is finalizing a legislative package that would include familiar ideas, as well it should: closing the gun-show loophole for background checks, banning assault weapons, reinstating the one-gun-per-month rule and expanding local authority to regulate firearms. “They have never received a fair hearing,” Mr. Northam said. “I want these pieces of common-sense gun safety legislation to get to the floor and let these individuals elected by you, the people, to come to the floor and cast their vote.”
To call the chances for success in the Republican-controlled legislature unclear might be optimistic. The initial Republican response was, as characterized by The Post’s Gregory S. Schneider, cool. House Speaker Kirk Cox (Colonial Heights) called the governor’s action “hasty and suspect,” and days earlier Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (James City) was harshly critical of Democrats whom he accused of using a tragedy to advance their political agenda.
No doubt Democrats want to put Republicans on the spot on this critical issue just a few months before the November elections in which all 140 seats in the legislature are on the ballot. That, though, is how it should be. Polls have shown increasing support from Virginians to tighten the state’s notoriously permissive gun laws. The special session offers an opportunity to do so. If Republicans choose to pass up that opportunity, voters will have their own chance in November to bring about essential change.