WINCHESTER — Two area lawmakers have signed onto bills to be considered when the General Assembly reconvenes Nov. 18 to discuss gun control measures.
Tuesday’s special legislative session in Richmond on gun control, called by Gov. Ralph Northam in response to a mass shooting that killed 12 people in a Virginia Beach municipal building on May 31, came to an abrupt end as Republicans in the House and Senate voted to postpone the session until after the Nov. 5 election.
Del. Chris Collins, R-Frederick County, Del. Dave LaRock, R-Hamilton, and Sen. Jill Vogel, R-Upperville, all voted for the adjournment. Del. Wendy Gooditis, D-Clarke County, voted against it.
The vote included a provision that will send all bills filed by legislators for the special session to the Virginia State Crime Commission for review. Collins, LaRock and Vogel said this will allow sufficient time for public input, study and data collection.
“This is exactly the protocol established by Gov. Tim Kaine after [the 2007 Virginia Tech] shooting,” Vogel said in a text message after the adjournment. “We are wise to... allow a thorough vetting and return in the fall for a vote.”
Collins, who serves on the bi-partisan Crime Commission, which includes legislators and gubernatorial appointees, said the review period will give members time to consider the potential effects of each proposal and write a report to lawmakers outlining their recommendations.
“Republicans are committed to a thoughtful and deliberative response based on facts and evidence, not political talking points,” LaRock said in an email. “...the Crime Commission is the best place to better understand what steps Virginia might take to keep our communities safe without the distraction of partisan politics.”
Some Democratic critics were quick to condemn the vote to adjourn as an act of political cowardice.
“Republicans in Richmond are so beholden to the gun lobby that they aren’t even willing to have a discussion about ways we can prevent gun violence,” Rep. Jennifer Wexton, D-10th, said in a tweet. “Their cowardice is a slap in the face to the victims and survivors of gun violence — Virginians deserve better.”
Collins pushed back.
“We are not cowards,” he said. “You can’t really do good laws in a 48-hour period.”
Gooditis called the adjournment an “abdication of responsibility” for partisan reasons.
“These issues have been around for decades, these are not new things that need a major study,” Gooditis said, adding she was upset the session only lasted 90 minutes when she was prepared to be in Richmond for one week. “We were elected to do a job. Republicans refuse to do that job.”
Gooditis said the Nov. 18 date comes after the Nov. 5 election, when all 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for election, but before the results of that election take effect in January.
Many of the bills proposed by Democrats are measures previously killed by Republican-controlled committees.
Gooditis is chief co-patron of House Bill 4003, which would allow elected prosecutors and law enforcement to petition the courts to prohibit “a person who poses a substantial risk of injury to himself or others” from buying or possessing a gun. The bill is similar to “red flag” laws passed in other states.
“Families and friends often notice early warning signs of loved ones who are at risk to others or themselves,” Gooditis said, adding that such legislation might have helped her family prevent her brother’s suicide. “This bill would allow friends and family to work with local judges and law enforcement to prevent at-risk loved ones from hurting others or themselves ... while maintaining due process and a firm respect for Second Amendment rights.”
LaRock signed on as the only House patron to Senate Bill 4016, which would prohibit localities from making any laws barring employees from bringing concealed guns to work if they have a concealed carry permit.
He said the bill is “a necessary and obvious reaction to the Virginia Beach massacre” that would make public buildings safer.
“Gun-free zones are built on ridiculous expectations that violent criminals, when confronted with a sign prohibiting guns in an area, will comply,” LaRock said, citing an article in The Virginian-Pilot about a woman who decided against bringing a gun to work in her handbag because the City of Virginia Beach, her employer, prohibited it. “Too many lives have been lost because those inside a so-called gun-free zone don’t have the ability to protect themselves. In an emergency situation, seconds matter and a well-trained, responsible gun owner can save lives in an active-shooter situation.”
Collins and Vogel did not sign on as patrons of any bills ahead of the special session.