Governor Northam’s decision to convene the General Assembly for a special session to address gun violence was the subject of wide-ranging debate and skepticism among “high information” Democrats and Republicans alike. As the DMV region begins to cope with rising extremes of heat, humidity and severe weather, most citizens have little patience for partisan shadow-dancing in Richmond. This is understandable, but I supported the Governor’s decision. I believe he correctly seized the opportunity created by the convergence of: 1) the tragic shootings in Virginia Beach; 2) the Supreme Court’s decision to let Virginia’s new Court-mandated legislative map stand for the 2019 and 2020 elections; and 3) the internal meltdown afflicting the national NRA.
According to a new report released by the Center for American Progress (CAP), Virginia ranks 23rd in the nation for its overall rate of gun violence. This is simply not acceptable for a state that ranks 9th in median household income (Census Bureau), 6th in population educational attainment and that has the 11th lowest poverty rate in the U.S.
The CAP Report makes it painfully clear that that Virginia’s flawed legal standards governing access to and use of guns is the key cause of these higher rates of gun violence. Police departments up and down the eastern seaboard complain that Virginia’s legal loopholes and enforcement failures drive gun violence in their communities.
These are facts! But facts are increasingly irrelevant to the decision-making of politicians cowed by shrill media commentators, gun lobbyists and 2nd amendment true believers. Poll after poll shows widespread support for common sense measures among Democrats and even among majorities of suburban Republicans. These facts are creating increasingly perilous political challenges for politicians who are unwilling to accept changes in the thinking of the electorate.
It is in this context that I supported Governor Northam’s decision to call a special session. Clearly, there’s a rising political dimension to the special session. As the session was about to launch, the resulting pressure seemed to be working. As reported in the Washington Post, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-James City) was submitting a bill to create a felony ban on possession of firearms in all government buildings. Senator Normant — just like every other member of the General Assembly in 2019 — must face his constituents in the fall elections. Unfortunately, our hopes for some constructive progress were not realized. The Republican majority decided to adjourn the session until November 18…after the election. Apparently, this means that Republicans are willing to run on the basis of their existing view on gun violence, which is demonstrably out-of-step with most Virginians.
I am working with my fellow members of the Democratic Caucus to make sure that we present a comprehensive framework for effective gun control measures. While I expect that most legislation will have to wait until there are Democratic majorities in both houses, there are some areas where progress can be made now, including: 1) making it much easier for victims of domestic violence to obtain court order seizure of firearms in the hands of the abusers; 2) similarly, to require background checks for every gun purchase, so individuals with recent felonies or histories of abuse will not get access to firearms; 3) increased funding for community-based violence prevention.