Virginia House and Senate Republicans are accusing Gov. Ralph Northam of politicizing a tragedy after he called the General Assembly in for a special session to address gun control in the wake of a Virginia Beach shooting that killed 12 people.
Northam said he would propose legislation to create universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons, including bump stocks and suppressors.
In a news release, Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment, R-James City, said that Northam put political posturing ahead of solutions because he called a special session without legislation already drawn up.
“By calling the General Assembly into special session absent a specific plan or legislative package that hasn’t already been considered,” Norment said, “the Governor’s actions today are in stark contrast to the deliberative approach employed by then-Governor [Tim] Kaine after the murders at Virginia Tech. Disappointingly, this governor has opted for political posturing over solutions.”
Norment said that the families directly affected by the shooting are Republicans’ first priority rather than politics and that all of Virginia is grieving with them. He said the families are in their prayers.
Despite his disagreement with the decision, Norment said that calling a special session is the prerogative of the governor and that the Senate Republicans will be present and give potential legislation the same consideration given in a regular session.
Similarly, House Republicans released a statement that said the session is more likely to “inflame political tensions” than actually lead to substantive policy changes.
“We believe addressing gun violence starts with holding criminals accountable for their actions, not infringing on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, said in a news release.
“When the Special Session convenes, Republicans will put forward a package of legislation to stiffen penalties for those who use firearms to commit crimes, including mandatory minimum sentences,” Cox said. “These steps, combined with our ongoing efforts to strengthen the mental and behavioral health system, are the best ways to keep our communities safe from those who commit violence with guns.”
Cox thanked the first responders and said that they continue to pray for the victims.
Northam announced his decision in a news conference Tuesday in which he thanked first responders and said that thoughts and prayers are needed and appreciated. However, he said that “we must do more than give our thoughts and prayers.”
“It is wrong, it is outrageous, it is unforgivable to turn our municipal centers, our schools, our churches and synagogues and mosques, into battlefields,” Northam said. “No one should go to work, to school, or to church wondering if they will come home. Our elementary school children regularly practice lockdown drills. That is what our society has come to, because we have failed to act on gun violence.”
Northam will announce the date of the special session within the next few days.