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Republicans Push Special Session Back to November

Protesters outside the Richmond Capital building

Crixell Matthews/WCVE News

Virginia’s Republican-controlled General Assembly ended a special session devoted to gun control less than two hours after it started, voting to push the session back until after November’s elections. Bills proposed for the session will go to the Virginia State Crime Commission, which will investigate root causes and solutions for mass shootings.

The move angered Gov. Ralph Northam and his fellow Democrats, who called for urgent action in the wake of a mass shooting in Virginia Beach in May.

“It is shameful and disappointing that Republicans in the General Assembly refuse to do their jobs, and take immediate action to save lives,” Northam said in a statement. “I expected better of them.”

In a press conference with top Republicans on Tuesday, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg) said Gov. Northam’s call for a special session was hasty, and that it was driven by election-year politics--and top Democrats’ political scandals--rather than concern for victims. 

“I would suggest to you that what we have is political theater going on and there are a number of scenes and a number of actors that will play out,” Norment said. 

The bipartisan commission’s findings will be considered on November 18, less than two weeks after elections where Republicans’ control of the General Assembly hangs in the balance. The lame duck session won’t include the newly elected lawmakers, and Democrats said it was just a tactic to stall on a contentious issue ahead of the vote.

“It’s not too soon, it’s too late,” said Democratic House minority leader Eileen Filler-Corn. “Doing nothing is not an option.”

Outside, hundreds of protesters for and against gun measures thronged the Capitol hoping to influence lawmakers. 

Gov. Ralph Northam kicked off the special session with a call for stricter gun laws. 

“For those who are here to share their thoughts and prayers, I say thank you but I’m asking for something else today,” Northam said. “No more excuses. No more waiting until the next tragedy.” 

Both outside the capitol and in, gun-rights advocates flaunted their firearms -- which is allowed under Virginia’s open-carry laws. 

The National Rifle Association and gun rights activists cheered the outcome of Tuesday’s session. 

“Without a final report on the Virginia Beach investigation, this special session by Gov. Northam was a complete taxpayer-funded distraction,” said Jason Ouimet, acting executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action.

Gun safety advocates disappointed with the turnout of events included Andy Parker, father of Alison Parker, a TV news reporter in Roanoke who was shot and killed on air in 2015. 

“It’s disingenuous, to put it mildly and I think again just complete cowardice on the part of the Republicans,” Parker said.