What to Expect From This Week's Special Legislative Session

Jul 8, 2019

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Lawmakers will be returning to Richmond once again this week to consider gun-control legislation in the wake of the Virginia Beach shooting.

After 12 died during a mass shooting in Virginia Beach, Democratic Governor Ralph Northam called for a special session to deal with gun control. This week, lawmakers will consider his list of reform efforts — everything from background checks and waiting periods to extreme risk protective orders. The NRA and the Virginia Citizens Defense League oppose all of that.

Rachel Bitecofer at Christopher Newport University says if Republicans take a business-as-usual approach to handling these bills, they’re taking a risk.  

“If the Republicans want to kill them in committee, it’s going to happen with a great deal of sunshine and it’s going to get intense press coverage," she explains. "So it’s going to be a completely different ballgame.”

That ballgame won’t have to compete with hundreds of other games that happen during a General Assembly session, when all these bills strikeout before they ever get a recorded vote on the floor.

Stephen Farnsworth at the University of Mary Washington says Republicans are going to have to consider their actions while also on the campaign trail. 

“If the Republicans bottle everything up in committee the way that occurred during the general session, the Republicans are probably going to lose their legislative majorities," says Farnsworth. "And these bills may very well pass next year.”

Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have been filing gun-related legislation to be considered during the session.

That includes Democratic Senator John Edwards. He has a bill that would allow local governments to ban firearms from meeting places like city council chambers.

Edwards has tried to get the measure passed before on behalf of Roanoke’s city council.

"Not every local government may want to pass an ordinance to keep guns out of chambers," he explains. "But many do, such as Roanoke City because they’ve had specific instances where people have brought guns into city council chambers, at least on two occasions that I’m aware of."

Other proposed legislation from Democratic lawmakers would reinstate Virginia’s one handgun purchase-a-month law, allow courts to remove guns from people deemed a risk to themselves or others, and make the penalty for leaving a loaded gun where a child can get it a felony.

Republican legislation includes efforts to increase the penalties for using a firearm during a crime, brandishing a gun at a law enforcement officer, and allowing state and local government employees to carry their gun on the job if they also have a concealed carry permit.

Click here for the full list of bills and resolutions being considered

Republican Senator Amanda Chase says gun owners who are following the law shouldn’t be penalized for the bad behavior of others.

"These laws only disarm law-abiding citizens who, in order to follow the law must leave their firearm locked up in a car or leave it at home. And now the law-abiding unarmed citizen is defenseless," Chase says.

This November, ever seat in the General Assembly will be on the ballot — all 100 seats in the House of Delegates and all 40 seats in the state Senate.

This report, provided by Virginia Public Radio, was made possible with support from the Virginia Education Association.