Gun Control Focus Of VA Legislature Special Session: Northam
RICHMOND, VA — Pushing back against critics who say it’s too soon to contemplate gun control laws after the May 31 mass shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center that killed 12 people and injured several others, Gov. Ralph Northam said Tuesday morning that he will call a special session of the Virginia legislature. His goal is to enact what he called “common sense public safety laws” this summer.
In the previous legislative session Northam sought tougher penalties for anyone who leaves a loaded gun around a child, and harsher penalties for failing to report a stolen gun within 24 hours, but they failed, along with other gun control measures. Northam said none of the proposals are radical or violate the Second Amendment.
“This weekend’s tragedy … just instills in us an urgency to act,” he said at the June 4 press conference.
DeWayne Craddock — who had worked in the public utilities department as an engineer for 15 years — bought two .45-caliber pistols on separate occasions before he began shooting in his workplace. Craddock had no felony record, making him eligible to buy the weapons, and early evidence indicates he bought them legally.
Northam said Tuesday that he will ask lawmakers to adopt:
“I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers,” Northam said.
Following Northam’s announcement, the gun violence prevention group Brady released the following statement praising the move. Brady president Kris Brown said that “Time and time again, members of the Virginia legislature have chosen to put profits over people, siding with the corporate gun lobby over keeping people safe from gun violence. Now, they have an opportunity to make this right.”
The Virginia Beach shooter, reportedly a former cannon crew member in the state National Guard, bought one pistol used in the attack in 2016 and the other last year, authorities said. One of the guns was equipped with a noise suppressor and police said Craddock also was carrying extended magazine. Even more weapons were found at Craddock’s home, Jim Cervera, the city’s chief of police, told media outlets.
But uncertainty surrounds what prompted the gunman to carry out the attack. Investigators said he emailed a resignation letter to a superior just hours before the attack, but that he wasn’t being forced out or in the process of being fired. Moreover, his employment status was in good standing and his work performance was satisfactory, City Manager Dave Hansen told reporters.
Virginia, with a gun death rate of 11.9 per 100,000 people, gets a “D” grade on the Giffords Law Center’s annual gun law scorecard, ranking the state 22nd for strength and 32nd for gun deaths. The state regulates gun shows and mandates that workers with federally licensed gun dealers undergo background checks.
But the state doesn’t have so-called “universal background checks” and hasn’t enacted an extreme risk protection order law. Openly carrying a handgun is legal without a permit or license in Virginia.
In 2017, Northam said, 1,028 Virginians died from gun violence, more than the total number of Commonwealth residents who died in vehicle accidents.
There is no reason to delay action, Northam said. “When is the right time? Delay means what it always means. There will be a next time, another tragedy. … I want this to be the last time.”
Senate Majority Leader Thomas K. Norment Jr. told protesters at his Williamsburg office Monday that there should be a “meaningful discussion” about gun control, according to the Virginia Gazette newspaper. He said the legislature will likely act on extended magazines on firearms in its next session.
Norment voted against a ban on high-capacity ammunition magazines this year, and told The Washington Post that none of Northam’s failed proposals met standards for “merits, practical application, and efficacy.”
Authorities have three days to conduct a background check when someone purchases a firearm. After that, a federally licensed gun-dealer can go ahead with the sale. More than 90 percent of background checks provide an answer within minutes, but about 9 percent require further investigation information.
However, the National Firearms Act governs the sale of silencers. Those buying a noise suppressor like the one used in the Virginia Beach shooting must go through an extensive background check that can take as many as eight months or longer before the sale is completed.
U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine praised Northam’s call for a special General Assembly session to take up gun reform.
“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 common sense gun safety reforms,” Kaine said. “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.”