A top Republican in the Virginia General Assembly has criticized Gov. Ralph Northam for using a recent mass-shooting to push for more gun restrictions.
A special session called by Northam to address gun violence in the state begins today. The Democratic governor called the General Assembly session in the weeks following a May 31 mass shooting incident in a Virginia Beach government building that left 13 people inside dead, including a city engineer.
Northam announced Wednesday a package of eight proposed bills. The governor’s proposals call for:
Requiring background checks on all firearms sales and transactions, and mandates that any person selling, renting, trading or transferring a firearm must first obtain the results of a background check before completing the transaction.
Banning dangerous weapons including assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, bump stocks and silencers.
Reinstating Virginia’s law limiting one handgun purchase in a 30-day period.
Requiring that stolen or lost firearms are reported to law enforcement within 24 hours.
Creating an extreme risk protective order that would allow law enforcement and the courts to temporarily separate a person who exhibits dangerous behavior from firearms.
Prohibiting anyone subject to final protective orders from possessing firearms.
Enhancing the punishment for allowing a child access to a loaded, unsecured firearm from a Class 3 misdemeanor to a Class 6 felony.
Enabling localities to enact any firearms ordinances more strict than state law, including regulations of weapons in government buildings, libraries and at permitted events.
Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Mount Jackson, spoke Friday ahead of the session about the governor’s proposals.
“I think it is ridiculous that the governor is using a tragedy to advance legislative proposals that had nothing to do with that tragedy and by his own admission would have done little or nothing to stop it,” Gilbert said. “The governor’s solution to bad people committing criminal acts is apparently to turn more law-abiding people into criminals rather than address criminal behavior and mental health issues.”
Gilbert said he has a problem with the state requiring background checks in cases where a firearm changes hands as a gift from a family member, bequeathed in a will or borrowed from a friend for hunting.
“The governor thinks that when a father leaves his son a gun in his will that the son should have to go through a government background check, and that to violate that would be a criminal act perhaps on both their parts, and I think that is a ridiculous proposal on its face and an extreme reaction to a tragedy that has nothing to do with the tragedy itself,” Gilbert added.
“What they really want is far beyond these proposals,” Gilbert said. “Some people just have a problem with the private ownership of firearms and a particular style of firearm or some other cosmetic aspect of a weapon is not going to prevent people who mean to do harm to others from doing so.”
Gilbert went on to criticize Northam’s proposal to give localities power to ban weapons in government buildings. The proposal would allow localities to create more spaces in which law-abiding people cannot defend themselves, Gilbert said. Incidents of gun violence often occur in places in which people cannot bring firearms, Gilbert added. The delegate noted that one victim in the Virginia Beach shooting had expressed to a coworker that she wanted to bring her firearm to work but chose not to out of fear of losing her job. Instead, the next day, she was killed in the shooting incident, Gilbert said.
“We just hear this constant refrain about common sense gun legislation but creating more places where would-be mass murderers can do their will without resistance is a complete absence of common sense, in my opinion,” Gilbert said.
The delegate went on to say that firearms have been readily available for decades but only recently problems unrelated to guns have arisen. Legislators need to focus their efforts to deal with mental health problems if this is a common denominator in shooting incidents, Gilbert said.
“I think just allowing a neighbor to complain that their neighbor is dangerous and scary and then allow the police to come kick in their door and take their firearms before they’ve even had a hearing is certainly counter to the due process rights I’m aware that Americans all share,” Gilbert added.
The governor’s office responded Monday to questions about the session and Northam’s proposals. Northam’s press secretary Alena Yarmosky provided responses by email, first to critics’ claims the governor is using the session as a political maneuver to push gun legislation.
“We just lost 12 lives in Virginia Beach, and over 1,000 Virginians died from gun-related incidents in the last year,” the email states. “The governor feels enough is enough--it’s time for our elected officials to do what they’ve been elected to do, and that’s pass (common sense) legislation that will save lives.”
The governor’s office called the bills “reasonable, middle of the road proposals” in the email, and notes that previous Republican-controlled legislatures and Republican governors have passed and signed into law provisions for an Extreme Risk Protective Order.
Northam’s office responded to a question about his stance of pushing mental health reforms versus gun legislation.
“Mental health is a top priority for the governor, but the fact is that people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of gun violence than perpetrators,” the email states. “After Virginia Tech, we came together to improve our mental health system, but gun safety recommendations like background checks were never passed.
“It is past time we passed (common sense) measures that will reduce gun violence and save lives, and that’s exactly why the Governor called this special session,” the email adds.