On May 31, near the end of the business day, a disgruntled, former employee of the City of Virginia Beach walked into a government office building and started indiscriminately shooting city workers. Within a matter of minutes, 12 people either were dead or fatally wounded, including a private citizen the gunman shot in the parking lot as he was marching toward the office building. The gunman, whose name we won’t use, died in a gunfight with police officers who arrived within minutes of receiving word of the attack.
In response, Gov. Ralph Northam called a special session of the General Assembly to discuss enhancing and strengthening gun safety laws in the commonwealth.
Now let us state this right up front: We value the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution as much as we value the First Amendment and its protections of the press and free speech. But that doesn’t mean we don’t see problems and deficiencies in the commonwealth’s gun laws that should be addressed. Gun rights, we would argue, are not absolute, just as First Amendment free speech rights aren’t absolute.
The special session, held Tuesday, devolved into a farce, a political joke, when Republicans, who control both the Senate and House of Delegates, adjourned and went home in less than 90 minutes. Many of the governor’s proposals had been introduced — and failed — in past Assembly sessions, but the House and Senate decided to send them all to the Virginia State Crime Commission for further study, with orders to report back to legislators Nov. 18, two weeks after the November elections.
Here are a few of the highlights from Northam’s proposals the crime commission, chaired by Republican Sen. Mark Obenshain of Harrisonburg, will now be examining:
» Passage of a so-called “red flag” law that would allow police, acting on the orders of a judge, to seize the weapons of a person deemed to be an immediate danger to himself or others.
» Prohibiting anyone subject to a final protective order for domestic abuse from owning or possessing firearms.
» Granting localities the right to ban firearms in municipal buildings, if they choose. Firearms currently are forbidden from courthouses, but guns in regular office buildings are beyond the purview of local government to regulate.
» Proposals to institute mandatory background checks for the sale of firearms, even between private individuals if it takes place under the aegis of a gun show, and the banning of the sale of silencers, bump stocks, assault-style weapons and high-capacity magazines.
Virginians, by varying degrees, favor specific, sensible gun safety proposals. For example, according to the Wason Center for Public Policy, 84 percent of Virginia voters favor requiring background checks for all gun sales, while 65 percent favor banning assault-style weapons.
Tuesday could have been a day of serious discussion among the commonwealth’s elected leaders, but nothing was done. No debates or hearings held. No Virginians, either opposed or in favor of the proposals, heard from. Rather, on straight party-line votes, legislators decided to close up shop and hit the road … but not before collecting their paychecks for the day.