Special session foreshadows gun debate for Virginia

Photo of the special session at the Virginia Capitol on Nov. 18, 2019 | Courtesy: Capital News Service
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RICHMOND, Va. (CNS) — Nineteen of the state’s 140 General Assembly members were present Monday when the legislature reconvened at the state Capitol following the July 9 special session on gun violence that recessed in 90 minutes.

Both the House of Delegates and the state Senate held meetings in their respective chambers. Both pro forma sessions -- sessions in which no business is conducted — were adjourned in less than 10 minutes.

The House started its meeting with a prayer and pledge of allegiance led by Majority Leader Del. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, who then called on outgoing House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, to recess the special session. The resolution outlining the session was offered July 9 following the Virginia Beach mass shooting in May, and originally intended to only introduce legislation related to gun violence, public safety, mental and behavioral health, and matters of the General Assembly. Fourteen delegates were in attendance, and the motion was approved.

In the Senate chamber, five senators attended, including Sen. Adam Ebbin, D-Alexandria, who took the floor to speak.

“On July 9, with parliamentary shenanigans, this session was gaveled shut before I even could speak,” Ebbin said. “Ostensibly, we were there to give full and careful consideration to bills filed, or I should say they were referred to the Crime Commission for ostensibly extensive and careful consideration as though we didn’t know already that keeping guns out of the wrong hands could save lives.”

Ebbin then referenced the recent three-page Crime Commission report: “The absence of recommendations should not be interpreted as meaning that no changes to Virginia’s laws are necessary, but rather that any changes are policy decisions, which can only be made by the General Assembly.”

“I’m only here today to promise that come January the people of this commonwealth will see action,” he concluded.

Sen. Amanda Chase, R-Chesterfield, expressed a different viewpoint, saying that her district, along with others around the state, spoke loud and clear.

“The laws and the restrictions that the other side of the aisle want to put forth are going to do nothing more than hurt law-abiding citizens,” Chase said. “And for that, we will continue to vocally express our grave concerns that those will be pushed forward and we will do everything in our ability to challenge those thoughts and ideas.”

On Nov. 9, Gilbert tweeted that the special session would proceed as pro forma, and that “going forward with a session that has no chance of producing legislation that will become law would be a waste of taxpayer resources.”

“The incoming majority will have the opportunity to propose and make their case in January for policies that reduce gun violence while hopefully protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners. Republicans stand ready to propose our own ideas for reducing gun violence just as we have done this special session,” Gilbert stated in the tweet.

Several bills were filed Monday including HB2, introduced by Del. Ken Plum, D-Reston, which calls for universal background checks when purchasing firearms.

The General Assembly will reconvene on Jan. 8.

Imani Thaniel contributed to this report