RICHMOND, Va. — Dozens of speakers came before the Virginia State Crime Commission to tell the group what they think about legislation put forward during a special session aimed at curbing gun violence.
Gov. Ralph Northam called lawmakers back to Richmond last month in response to the deadly mass shooting in Virginia Beach. Virginia Republicans said the governor’s move was an election-year stunt and that sending the legislation to the crime commission will allow lawmakers to take a deeper look at the issue.
Meetings happened over the course of two days. On Monday, the commission heard from a number of experts from across the country and state on gun violence, prevention and who has been killed by guns in Virginia.
Sending the legislation to the crime commission, Republicans have said, will allow lawmakers to take a deeper look at the issues. Democrats have called this a political stunt too.
Sen. Tommy Norment (R-James City), the Senate Majority Leader, said he learned new information from these presentations, that reveal “different perspectives on possible options that would be available that have proven to be effective.”
In a letter addressed to the crime commission, Gov. Northam wrote Monday “these proposals do not need further study” and “I refuse to allow many politicians and the gun lobby to scapegoat some of our most vulnerable citizens as an excuse for their inaction.”
Sen. Norment said members of the commission did not get copies of the letter until it was sent to the media.
“I think we all need to appreciate that the issue of guns is being driven as a partisan wedge issue in the 2019 election,” Sen. Norment said.
While speaking to the press Tuesday, Gov. Northam said he did not expect Republicans to meet a compromise on the proposals.
“If you can’t change minds, you gotta change seats,” the governor said.
Voters will decide who sits in each of the 140 seats that make up the General Assembly come November.
The committee room was packed for public comment on both sides of the gun control debate Tuesday.
The Newport News Sheriff Gabriel Morgan asked lawmakers to consider bringing back Virginia’s policy to only allow people to buy one handgun a month. He thinks it would help crack down on illegal gun sales used to feed the opioid crisis.
More than 650 guns were taken off Newport News’ streets last year, Sheriff Morgan says, but there is only so much his deputies can do.
”We need to have some legislation that will give us the ability to combat this problem without impeding other people’s rights,” Sheriff Morgan said.
Others were concerned about how new regulations could hurt responsible gun owners.
“Every time some miscreant commits a mass murder gun owners brace for the oncoming onslaught at gun control aimed at us,” Philip Van Cleave, the president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said.
Van Cleave says the crime commission should focus on cracking down on criminals and letting Virginians protect themselves in all public areas. Specifically, he thinks localities should get rid of “gun-free” zones.
“Make sure they only affect criminals and do not add anymore restrictions, bans or red tape for Virginia’s lawful gun owners,” he added.
Lawmakers also presented their bills to the commission Tuesday. On Nov. 18, lawmakers are expected to return to Richmond to continue work on these proposals.
The Crime Commission is also accepting written comments on the legislation. You can send those comments by email to comments (at) vssc.virginia.gov or by mail at Virginia State Crime Commission, 1111 East Broad Street, Ste. B036, Richmond, Va, 23219.
The commission’s meetings from Monday and Tuesday were streamed live online and can be found here in the archives of the Virginia General Assembly’s website.