RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe on Thursday banned the open carry of guns in some state-owned buildings and pledged to pursue a muscular and multifaceted strategy to combat gun violence in Virginia.
McAuliffe —flanked by U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, law enforcement officers and parents of victims killed in high-profile gun-related crimes — indicated he would exercise as much executive authority as he could on gun control measures while also trying to pressure the Republican-controlled General Assembly to enact gun control legislation.
"Gun crimes are not acts of God," McAuliffe. "But for too long, certain politicians and lobbyists have told us that gun violence in America is some kind of natural phenomena, something we cannot do anything about."
McAuliffe's executive order immediately bans the open carry of firearms, except by law enforcement officials, in offices used by executive branch agencies. The governor also instructed a state administrator to propose regulations within the next 30 days to ban concealed weapons in the same offices. Virginia allows both the open carry and concealed carry of guns in public spaces.
The governor's executive order also sets up a law enforcement-centered task force aimed at more robust prosecution of gun crimes, establishes a statewide tip line to report gun crimes and orders state police to request a trace of every gun involved in a crime in Virginia.
McAuliffe has been an outspoken advocate for tighter gun control measures, but has failed to get those efforts past the Republican-controlled General Assembly. The governor said Thursday he will continue to try and push lawmakers to pass what he said was commonsense legislation.
Republican lawmakers reacted to McAuliffe's executive order with skepticism.
In a statement, House Majority Leader Del. Kirk Cox said he's confident law enforcement officials are already enforcing existing guns laws and McAuliffe and Herring "should take extra care before interfering with their work."
And Del. Todd Gilbert said the decision to prohibit guns in state buildings — a ban that Republicans say will not apply to the state Capitol or the General Assembly's office building — was "shortsighted" and "leaves law-abiding citizens vulnerable to acts of senseless violence rather than protecting them from such tragedies." Gilbert added that lawmakers will review the governor's new ban during next year's legislative session and "take appropriate action to protect the rights of law-abiding citizens."
Gun issues have long been a political flash point in Virginia, where the Virginia Tech mass shooting took place in 2007 and a TV reporter and cameraman near Roanoke were shot and killed in August during a live broadcast. Special interest groups on both sides are expected to spend heavily to help influence the outcome of the upcoming legislative elections in Virginia, which will determine which party controls the state Senate.
Andy Parker, whose daughter Alison Parker was fatally shot during the broadcast two months ago, praised McAuliffe for being so aggressive on gun-control measures.
"He's my hero," Parker said.
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