VIRGINIA BEACH, Va. (WRIC) — Before lawmakers head back to Richmond next week for a special session to discuss a series of gun-control bills proposed by the governor, the National Rifle Association plans to hold multiple town hall meetings across Virginia. The town halls, which start Monday, come more than a month after 12 people were killed inside the Virginia Beach Municipal Center.
In a press conference following the mass shooting, Gov. Ralph Northam called for a special legislative session to pass “common sense public safety laws.” Northam called on the General Assembly to debate several gun-control measures, including universal background checks, banning assault weapons and requiring people to report stolen or lost guns.
“I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers,” the governor said on June 4.
The NRA said they have invited Virginia lawmakers to attend the meetings to hear from their members. In an email to 8News, an NRA spokesperson said members and supporters are worried the special session set for July 9 “is a political stunt” by Gov. Northam.
The NRA is holding four town hall meetings across the state to inform our members of Gov. Northam’s gun grab agenda. We have invited local leaders to participate and hear from our members. Our members and supporters are concerned that Gov. Northam’s special session is a political stunt meant to distract from his own scandals. Gov. Northam’s gun grab agenda would only make it harder for law abiding citizens to exercise their right to self-defense. None of his gun control proposals will prevent criminals from accessing firearms and committing crimes, nor would they have prevented what happened in Virginia Beach. If the governor were serious about improving public safety he would address the underlying issues like our broken mental health system.”Catherine Mortensen, NRA spokesperson
Republican leadership questioned Northam’s motivation in June and claimed they would take their own path with legislation during the special session. Following the governor’s press conference, House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) said that Republicans will focus on mandatory minimums and harsher penalties for people who use guns to commit crimes.
The Governor’s call to Special Session is hasty and suspect when considered against the backdrop of the last few months. 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.”House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights)
The first town hall meetings Monday were held in Virginia Beach and Ashland. There will also be meetings in Fredericksburg and Belle Haven.
Kevin Washington, a Democratic candidate aiming to represent the 97 District for the Virginia House of Delegates, told 8News Monday he was at the NRA’s town hall in Ashland with his wife and they were asked to leave. Washington said his opponent, Scott Wyatt, was also at the event and allowed to stay.
“It seems that some representatives are only seeking to support their base or constituents,” Washington wrote in an email to 8News. “I attended the event to learn the concerns of NRA members prior to Gov. Northam’s special session on July 9th, so I can better work to support the needs of ALL residents of the 97th District and Virginia.”
The NRA denied that Washington and his wife were asked to leave Monday night’s meeting. Mortensen told 8News Tuesday that Mr. Washington left after deciding not to complete a membership form and that he never shared he was running for office.
The NRA hosted the town hall meeting for our members and their guests. Mrs. Washington stated that she was an NRA member, and asked if her husband could join. Mr. Washington chose not to complete the membership form and left. He was welcome to stay as his wife’s guest. At no time were the Washingtons asked to leave. Mr. Washington never identified himself as a candidate for public office.”Catherine Mortensen, NRA spokesperson
8News reached out to Wyatt for comment but have yet to hear back at this time. 8News also reached out to Gov. Northam’s office for comment about the NRA’s statement and town hall meetings but have yet to receive a response.
Stay with 8News for updates to this developing story.