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Virginia Gov. Northam to recall legislators to consider new gun legislation

Virginia governor urges action on gun reform

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday announced plans to recall state legislators to consider new legislation to address gun violence in the wake of a workplace shooting in Virginia Beach. Northam will convene a special session in order to pass "common sense public safety laws."

"We do appreciate and need them," Northam said at a Richmond press conference in response to the messages of condolences and prayers in the wake of the deadly shooting last week. "But we must do more than give our thoughts and prayers. We must give Virginians the action they deserve," he added. 

The governor said with this special session, he will be "asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers."

Northam said unfortunately, American society views "tragic" mass shootings and gun violence as the "new normal" and said it's high time to change it. 

"If we can save one life because we acted now it is worth it," Northam said. Let Virginia set an example for the nation that we can respond to tragedy with action, that we can turn pain into purpose. Let's get to work."

The legislation will include expanding background checks in the state and a review of potential restrictions on gun "silencers," or suppressors, like the one used in Friday's shooting.

What else Northam is proposing:

  • Universal background checks
  • Ban on assault weapons to include suppressors and bump stocks 
  • Extreme risk protective orders
  • Reinstating the "one-gun-a-month" law
  • Child access prevention programs
  • Require individuals to report lost or stolen firearms
  • Expanding local authority to regulate firearms, including in government buildings 

Virginia's Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax told reporters that Northam is imploring lawmakers to be the "second responders" to mass shooting events."We have a serious issue…we must take serious action. It is time for us to stand up with one voice to make sure this doesn't happen again. Let's act now," said Fairfax. 

Notably, Tuesday's press conference marked one of the most recent public appearances where Fairfax and Northam as well as state Attorney General Mark Herring were all seen together since their respective controversies.

The three highest-ranked officials in Virginia state government — all Democrats — came under intense scrutiny after the revelation over separate scandals, including their past use of blackface (Northam and Herring) and sexual assault allegations (Fairfax). All three lawmakers have since weathered their respective storms and managed to stay in office. 

Meanwhile, the move has already gained criticism from Virginia Republicans, including Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox. 

"The Governor's call to Special Session is hasty and suspect when considered against the backdrop of the last few months," argued Cox. 

"While the Governor can call a special session, he cannot specify what the General Assembly chooses to consider or how we do our work. We intend to use that time to take productive steps to address gun violence by holding criminals accountable with tougher sentences -- including mandatory minimums," he added. 

The state legislature adjourned its annual session earlier this year but can be recalled to the state capital by the governor to consider urgent legislation.