Special session discussed

Published 9:35 am Wednesday, June 19, 2019

On Tuesday, July 9, a special session of the General Assembly was scheduled to consider legislation on weapon safety.

The session was called by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam following the mass shooting in Virginia Beach on May 31, in which 12 died.

The legislation being considered, according to a release from the Office of the Governor, include universal background checks; a ban on assault weapons, to include suppressors and bump stocks; an extreme risk protective order; reinstating the one-gun-a-month law; child access prevention; requiring people to report lost and stolen firearms and expanding local authority to regulate firearms, including in government buildings.

“No one should go to work, to school, or to church wondering if they will come home,” Northam said in a statement on June 4.

During the address, he expressed heartbreak for families affected by the shootings.

“But that is what our society has come to, because we fail to act on gun violence … I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.” Northam said.

Prior to the upcoming session, The Dispatch reached out to area legislators to get their thoughts on the session and the legislation being considered.

Rep. Denver Riggleman is congressman for the 5th District, which encompasses Lunenburg County.

In a statement, Riggleman said his hope is that republican legislators advocate for weapon rights.

“This special session is an effort by Gov. Northam and the democrats to infringe on the rights of law-abiding gun owners,” Riggleman said, “and I hope Republicans in the General Assembly will stand up for our gun rights during this special session.”

State Sen. Frank Ruff represents District 15, which includes all of Lunenburg County, Mecklenburg County, Charlotte County, Nottoway County and parts of Brunswick County, Campbell County, Dinwiddie County, Halifax County, Pittsylvania County, Prince George County and Danville City.

Ruff said many of the legislation being considered on July 9 were also considered during the General Assembly session in January of this year.

“It was done on the heels of the shooting in Virginia Beach, before, I think, everyone had been buried, and I think that was not a proper action to take,” Ruff said in a statement about the special session announcement. “We will consider everything that’s offered, but there are already laws in the books to deal with people who do bad things, but that does not stop people from doing bad things. I’m not sure what we are trying to accomplish there.”

Del. Tommy Wright represents District 61, which includes part of Lunenburg, and all of Cumberland, Amelia, Mecklenburg and Nottoway.

Wright said in a statement that he also believes the session was called too soon.

“I think the special session has been called a little hastily,” Wright said. “I think we should have allowed more time for the families of the victims of this terrible, terrible tragedy in Virginia Beach to have a little time for them to have their funerals and mourn, give them a period for mourning and for privacy … It’s the governor’s prerogative to call a special session, and it’s our prerogative to convene, and we’re going to do just that.”

He said aspects that should be considered during the session are providing services for those with mental health or behavioral issues. He also suggested increasing the mandatory sentencing for perpetrators of violence.

“We need to see violent crimes, whether it be with a gun or anything else, they need to get the proper amount of sentencing and are not just given a slap on the wrist,” Wright said.

“We want to try to help solve this problem of shootings and other acts of violence while at the same time protecting the Second Amendment rights of citizens. Citizens have a right to protect themselves,” Wright said.

He said he has been praying and thinking about those affected, and said that thoughts and prayers are important during this time.

Sen. Tim Kaine, in a statement, praised the session for seeking to take action on gun violence instances.

“I applaud Governor Northam, who has seen the carnage of gun violence as a pediatrician, for calling the General Assembly to gather in a special session to find solutions,” Kaine said. “It’s painfully clear from the horrific shooting in Virginia Beach and the daily scourge of gun violence in communities across the Commonwealth that Virginia must pass commonsense gun safety reforms. When I was governor following the tragedy at Virginia Tech, we made some progress to fix a flaw in the background record check system that allowed the shooter to purchase a weapon, but when we tried to do more to strengthen background checks, Republicans blocked our efforts. There’s a lot of unfinished business to make our communities safer. We need more than thoughts and prayers; we need action.”

Sen. Mark Warner said in a statement that legislators, regardless of political party, will find commonalities during the session.

“This is the right move,” Warner said. “I hope legislators will come to Richmond with a willingness to find common ground on ways to reduce gun violence. Keeping our Commonwealth safe can and should be a bipartisan effort.”