Gov. Ralph Northam on Wednesday rolled out his final list of gun control measures he wants legislators to take up next week during a special session of the General Assembly.
Northam, a Democrat, called the special session, beginning Tuesday, in the wake of the May 31 shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal building that left 12 dead. Many of the eight proposals on his list have come before the Republican-controlled General Assembly in the past, but have not made it far.
“Now is the time to act — Virginians deserve votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers,” Northam said in a statement. “I urge the members of the General Assembly to engage in a thorough, meaningful discussion about these proposed bills and to allow every member to cast their votes on the floor.”
Northam is proposing universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, bump stocks and silencers. He also wants to reinstate Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month law, require lost and stolen firearms be reported to police within 24 hours and allow localities to enact firearm ordinances that are stricter than state law, such as regulating firearms in municipal buildings. He thinks the punishment for allowing a child access to loaded, unsecured firearms should be enhanced from a misdemeanor to a felony and the age of the children the law applies to should be raised from 14 to 18.
Northam is also interested in extreme risk protection orders, which allow a third party — in Virginia, officials said this would be a police officer or prosecutor — to petition a judge for a warrant to seize legally owned guns if someone is determined to be an immediate threat to themselves or others.
A proposal Northam hadn’t mentioned until Wednesday is to prohibit those subject to final protective orders from possessing firearms. Currently, Virginia law prohibits people subject to final protective orders for family abuse from possessing firearms.
None of the proposals have been filed yet as bills with complete language on the General Assembly’s website. Republicans have not released a list of proposals, but House Speaker Kirk Cox has said they plan to introduce legislation to impose tougher penalties — including mandatory minimums — against offenders. Northam has vowed not to sign any more mandatory minimum legislation for the remainder of his term.
After a Republican senator and Democratic delegate recently resigned from their posts to take jobs in the Northam administration, Republicans now hold a 20-19 majority in the Senate and a 51-48 majority in the House of Delegates.
For years, gun control bills that start out in the House have typically gone to a subcommittee of the House Militia, Police and Public Safety committee. There, they have historically died quick deaths with little discussion in a meeting that is not streamed live on video for the public to watch. The Senate has advanced gun control bills from subcommittees to full committees, where senators then kill them.
Northam has urged legislators to allow the bills to get to floor of both chambers for a vote, where he believes some of the legislation will receive support from some Republicans.
“We need some Republican votes,” Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke, said this week. “Will any of them vote for anything? We’ll see.”
The Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University on Wednesday released a compilation of data from its recent polling on gun issues.
Its 2018 poll found that 54% of Virginia voters say it’s more important to control who owns guns than to protect gun ownership rights. Democrats are more favorable to gun control, while Republicans favor gun rights.
But when it came to specific gun control policies, the partisan divide wasn’t as stark.
In 2018, 84% of Virginia voters said they favor requiring background checks for all gun sales. Of Democrats surveyed, 96% favored the measure, and 76% of Republicans supported the policy.
Banning assault-style weapons was supported by 65% of those polled. On the assault weapons ban, the partisan divide was more apparent, with 84% of identified Democrats supporting it, while Republicans were split about evenly.
The Wason Center polled 870 registered Virginia voters between Jan. 14 and Feb. 4, 2018, in a combination of cellphone and landline phone interviews in a sample designed to reflect the state’s demographic makeup in sex, age, race and region. The poll had a margin of error of 3.6%.
“With some close contests in the November election, this gun-control disconnect among Republican voters could put Republican lawmakers in a tight spot in the special session,” Wason Center Director Quentin Kidd said in a statement Wednesday. “Their voters oppose gun control generally but strongly favor specific gun control proposals that will likely be on the agenda in the special session.”