RICHMOND — In what amounted to a legislative standoff, Virginia’s General Assembly adjourned 90 minutes into a special legislative session to address gun violence. The proposed bills are now stalled until after the November general election and will be studied through the State Crime Commission.
Gov. Ralph Northam called for the special session in the wake of a mass shooting in May at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center and the death of a 9-year-old girl in Richmond last month. He summoned the General Assembly to vote on eight gun-control measures he put forth and a handful of resolutions to honor the victims of the May 31 mass shootings. As the legislative body has a history of addressing gun bills in subcommittees, advocates called for a floor vote that never happened.
The session came a couple of months in advance of the Nov. 5 election, in which all 140 seats of the House of Delegates and Senate are up for grabs. In the motion to adjourn, both chambers agreed to resume the session on Nov. 18.
“I called legislators back to Richmond for this special session so we could take immediate action to address the gun violence emergency that takes more than a thousand Virginians’ lives each year,” Northam said in a statement. “I expected lawmakers to take this seriously. I expected them to do what their constituents elected them to do — discuss issues and take votes.”
The consensus from several Democratic lawmakers was disappointment with Republican legislators. Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, likened the special session to a political stunt during an election year.
Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah made a motion for adjournment, with the votes tallying Yea-50 to Nay-46. It was mostly Republican legislators who voted to adjourn and pick the session back up on Nov. 18, after the Crimes Commission study.
Hurst was one of the 46 delegates who opposed adjournment. The Senate had adjourned just minutes earlier.
“Republicans proved again today that progress in Virginia hinges on Democrats taking back our House and Senate,” said Sally Hudson, the Democratic primary winner who is Toscano’s presumptive successor. “Voters in Charlottesville must stay laser-focused on that goal.”
Various city and Albemarle County groups carpooled to Richmond to demonstrate support of gun reform, including the Charlottesville chapter of Moms Demand Action and the Charlottesville Coalition for Gun Violence Prevention. Buckingham County residents Marie Flowers and Frank Howe attended the pre-session rally, as well.
“These people will not pass the laws, so we’ve got to vote them out,” Howe said. “Time and time again people say, ‘oh we’re going to vote,’ even after tragedy and then they never do.”
During the pre-session rally, a common refrain from participants was “You vote today, we vote in November.” Much of the crowd cheered as legislators who have taken pro-reform stances entered the building and shouted “shame” as people donning NRA merchandise and “Guns Save Lives” stickers passed.
Among the Charlottesville- and Albemarle-area candidates who attended the session and rally were City Council candidate Sena Magill and Amy Laufer and Elizabeth Alcorn, who are challenging incumbents Del. Rob Bell, R-Albemarle, and Sen. Bryce Reeves, R-Spotsylvania, respectively.
Both Reeves and Laufer pulled similar voting numbers in the June primaries, speaking to the potential for the November election to sway either direction.
Some Republicans somewhat broke from the party’s usual stance on gun control legislation. Davis filed a bill that would allow municipalities to ban guns in government buildings, but he then voted in party line to adjourn the session until November. In the Senate, Majority Leader Tommy Norment, R-James City, filed similar legislation on July 8. This prompted the Senate Majority Whip, Sen. Bill Stanley, to resign in protest, though the Senate swiftly voted to reinstate him. Norment also went on to retract his bill.