UPDATED: The Republican-controlled Virginia state Senate abruptly ended today's special session on gun legislation in a party-line vote just more than an hour after it began.
The Senate voted 20 to 18 to end the special session and reconvene the proceedings on Nov. 18, about two weeks after the Nov. 5 election that will decide the fates of all 140 members of the state legislature.
The state's upper chamber gaveled in at noon Tuesday, July 9, and then moved to adjourn at 1:30 p.m. without taking up any of the more than 50 bills that had been proposed for the special session.
State Sen. Tommy Norment, R-3rd District, of Williamsburg, pulled the bill he filed Monday that would have banned firearms from local government buildings around the state.
The House of Delegates, however, is holding subcommittee meetings this afternoon to debate some of the bills. It's not clear if the lower chamber, which is also controlled by Republicans, will continue in session or follow the lead of the state Senate. No bills can pass without the approval of both houses of the General Assembly as well as the governor's signature.
Earlier today, Gov. Ralph Northam addressed a throng of supporters outside the Virginia State Capitol this morning to commemorate victims of gun violence as the special session got underway.
Northam called on lawmakers to return to Richmond this week to tighten gun control measures in the wake of a mass shooting in Virginia Beach in which a city employee killed 12 people and wounded four more in a municipal building.
“I’m here to say, ‘Enough is enough.’ No more excuses, no more waiting until the next tragedy,” Northam said. “For those who are here today to share their thoughts and prayers, I say thank you, but I’m asking for something else. I’ve brought our legislators back to Richmond today for votes and laws.”
The vigil was attended by Attorney General Mark Herring (D), Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney and Del. Delores McQuinn, D-70th District, of Richmond. Speakers included gun reform advocates from across the state as well as victims of gun violence, including Maddy King, a survivor of the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.
Just across the street, a slightly smaller group of gun rights advocates lined up to voice their opposition to gun control measures introduced by Democratic lawmakers. They wore bright orange stickers that read, “Guns SAVE Lives.”
Democratic and Republican politicians are at odds on the issue of gun control, with Republicans voting down more than a dozen gun control bills proposed by Democrats in January. Among them was a bill to ban large-capacity magazines similar to the one used by the Virginia Beach shooter, and a bill that would have allowed localities to ban firearms from government buildings.
Republicans, who have majority control of the General Assembly, have said they would oppose many of the gun control measures introduced by Northam and other Democrats during the special session in favor of harsher penalties for violating gun laws. But some Republicans had broken ranks to introduce tighter restrictions.
For years, the GOP has stymied gun legislation in the General Assembly. Following the Virginia Tech mass shooting in 2007, in which 33 people died, the GOP blocked numerous gun control measures in favor of statewide mental health reforms to deal with the crisis.
More recently, gun legislation has generally been killed by majority-Republican subcommittees and typically has not received a full hearing in either chamber of the General Assembly. But Democrats had asked Republican leaders to forgo the subcommittee hearings and bring the legislation directly to the floor during the special session.
Following the session, Del. Michael Webert, R-18th, representing a district that includes a portion of Fauquier County, said in a press release:
"As I stated previously, I will not entertain emotional policy proposals that seek to undermine our Second Amendment rights and punish law-abiding citizens. I will continue to stand up for the rights of Virginians and prevent the Democrats from continually politicizing these tragedies.
”The Governor has already admitted that his policy proposals would not have prevented the murders in Virginia Beach, and, as we have seen time and again, limiting the rights of law-abiding citizens has zero impact on the rates of violence in communities with such laws.
"Instead of acting on emotion, we decided to send the bills that have been introduced to the Virginia Crime Commission. The Crime Commission is a widely-respected, bipartisan panel known for its substantive work on matters of public policy. The Crime Commission is the best place to better understand what steps Virginia might take to keep our communities safe without the distraction of partisan politics.
"I look forward to seeing what recommendations the Virginia Crime Commission puts forward and returning in November to discuss some actual legislation that addresses public safety."
Webert is running for a fourth term this year. He is a member of the House's Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee.
Reach Daniel Berti at email@example.com