NO DEBATE. No action. No legislation. Total abdication.
That was the upshot Tuesday from Richmond, where Republicans who control the General Assembly short-circuited the special session called by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to deal with gun violence in the aftermath of the Virginia Beach mass shooting. The utter failure to rise to the governor’s challenge to address this issue — which Mr. Northam rightly called an emergency for both commonwealth and country — should prompt Virginia voters to take their own action. Come November, they need to vote out of office those who showed such contempt for the public interest that they refused even to consider — let alone pass — sensible gun-safety measures.
Mr. Northam ordered the special session in the wake of the May 31 mass shooting, in which 12 people were killed and four others were injured in a Virginia Beach municipal building. “Votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers” was Mr. Northam’s plea in calling lawmakers together. But an hour and a half after they were gaveled into session, lawmakers abruptly pulled the plug. The Senate voted 20 to 18 along party lines to adjourn until Nov. 18 — after the election in which all 140 legislative seats are up — and the House of Delegates quickly fell in line. Lawmakers did stick around long enough to pass memorial resolutions for each of the Virginia Beach shooting victims, adding grim irony to Mr. Northam’s plea for more than just thoughts and prayers.
“The most totally irresponsible act I’ve seen by a political party in four decades I’ve been here,” said Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax). “Shocking. Disturbing,” said House Minority Leader Eileen Filler-Corn (D-Fairfax). “How in good conscience can they sleep at night and not pass these bills?” Among the sensible measures proposed by Mr. Northam, many of which enjoy broad public support: universal background checks; a ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and silencers; reinstatement of Virginia’s one-handgun-purchase-a-month law; strengthening of laws to secure guns from minors; and allowing localities to enact firearm ordinances that are stricter than state law.
The session actually started with some hope there might be an effort to find common ground. Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. (R-James City) introduced legislation that would have banned firearms from local government buildings around the state and made any violation a felony. But there was intense backlash from the National Rifle Association and other gun rights activists, and Republicans followed their marching orders by going home. The rationale they offered was that the session was premature, the bills need further study and so they would be referred to a bipartisan commission for review and recommendation.
Virginia voters should have no illusion about the intended fate of these very sensible gun-safety measures, many of which have been introduced before but never got far with Republicans in control. The only way these measures will have any chance of being considered, voted on and enacted is if the equation of the General Assembly changes with the election of lawmakers who put public safety ahead of the interests of the gun lobby. We urge Virginia voters to look for candidates, such as those identified by Moms Demand Action, who will support rational gun legislation.