On July 9, the General Assembly returned to Richmond for the special session called by the governor. The special session was called only days after the mass shooting that occurred in Virginia Beach for the purported purpose of adopting legislation to prevent such events in the future. When the governor announced his legislative package, it included nine gun control bills that he conceded would have had no impact in preventing the mass murder in Virginia Beach.
The true intention of the governor was to leverage the Virginia Beach shooting to stage-manage a political drama to divert attention from the embarrassing scandals of the governor, lieutenant governor, and attorney general. That the governor and his allies had no intention of truly addressing the complex and deeply disturbing phenomenon of mass killings was laid bare by the efforts of the governor’s allies in the House of Delegates to bar consideration during the special session of any mental health legislation or of bills that might provide a measure of financial relief to the families of the Virginia Beach victims.
Virginians should not be fooled. This has everything to do with the national efforts of liberals like former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and others to undermine the Second Amendment rights of law-abiding Americans and to bring D.C.-, Chicago- and California-style gun control to Virginia. It hasn’t worked there and it won’t work here. Moreover, these initiatives clearly infringe upon protections afforded by the Bill of Rights.
The truth is there is something terribly amiss in our society when someone with murder in his heart walks into a building and kills 12 innocent people. There’s also something equally wrong when someone in Charlottesville accelerates a Dodge Charger into a crowd of people not caring how many he kills, or when someone who walks into a plasma center in Petersburg with the intention of killing anyone in his path. These are all issues which must be addressed and which the special session agendas of the governor and his allies completely ignored.
While the governor and the 140 members of the General Assembly may each believe that they have cornered the market on political and public policy wisdom, that clearly is not so. In contrast to the governor’s approach, Republican majorities in the House and Senate have each committed themselves to the serious public work of developing public safety policies that actually will actually make a difference in protecting Virginians from the risk of future mass killings and mass shootings. Even in 2007 after the Virginia Tech shooting, Governor Tim Kaine empaneled a bipartisan blue-ribbon task force charged with developing policy proposals to keep Virginians safer. He rejected calls of some members of his own party to weaponize the tragedy for partisan political gain. What came out of that 2007 effort was bipartisan legislation that addressed pressing mental health issues, closed information gaps in our criminal records databases and other important policy changes.
This year, the Republican majority in both chambers clearly had the votes to simply adjourn, go home and do nothing. Instead, we referred all of the bills to the Virginia State Crime Commission and charged it with conducting an evidence-based review of policy options to address and reduce the risk to Virginians of mass killings, whether by gun, knife, motor vehicle or other instrumentality. It is clear that this is a complex issue to which there is no panacea. The Crime Commission is a bipartisan body composed of legislators and citizen members appointed by the governor. It has a highly respected professional staff with nationwide and global resources at its disposal. This is precisely the type of issue that the Virginia State Crime Commission should be examining.
Had the governor been successful in securing the passage of some or all of his gun control package, he undoubtedly would be taking a victory lap around the commonwealth notwithstanding his admission that his bills would have done nothing to have prevented the 12 deaths in Virginia Beach. For my part, I do not believe that new restrictions on the rights of law-abiding Virginians to exercise their Second Amendment rights is the correct approach. I am confident that, if given the opportunity, the professional staff of the Crime Commission will generate policy options that will enjoy bipartisan support and which will make Virginia a safer place. We should be working together to develop meaningful solutions, not advancing purely partisan agendas for the purpose of further dividing Virginians.