It's On: Northam Announces August Special Session

We’ve been expecting Gov. Ralph Northam to call lawmakers back into session in Virginia for a few weeks now, and on Friday the governor made it official: a special session of the legislature will kick off in Richmond a month from now on August 18th. The governor’s proclamation calling for the special session makes it clear that in addition to revising the state’s budget due to tax shortfalls, he wants Democrats in control of the General Assembly to bring plenty of “criminal and social justice reforms” to the table when lawmakers convene in a few months.

Will that include a revival of HB961, the Northam-backed gun, magazine, and suppressor ban that was defeated earlier this year after four Democrat state senators voted against the measure during the regular session? The governor didn’t specifically call for a renewed effort to push gun control legislation, but it wouldn’t be a stretch for Democrats to revive the bill and call it a “social justice” reform.

press release from the governor’s office lays out a few more specifics about the Democrats’ agenda next month, but also doesn’t specifically mention HB961.

The General Assembly will meet to adopt a final budget, a process that was postponed earlier in the year due to COVID-19. In April, Governor Northam worked with legislators to “unallot,” or freeze, over $2.2 billion in new spending in Virginia’s new biennial budget. This strategy allowed time for the Commonwealth’s fiscal outlook to stabilize and avoided major cuts to important new programs and state services. Legislators will now consider a number of items previously “unalloted”—including the Governor’s historic investments in early childhood education, tuition-free community college, affordable housing, and broadband.

Policing initiatives are expected to include measures aimed at police accountability and oversight, use of force, increased training and education, and officer recruitment, hiring, and decertification. Governor Northam has directed the Department of Criminal Justice Services, the Office of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, the Virginia African American Advisory Board, and the Commission to Examine Racial Inequity in Virginia Law to assist the administration in developing policy initiatives. The Governor will continue to work closely with legislators and community advocates on specific legislative proposals.

Even though Northam didn’t specifically reference gun control in his statements on Friday, gun owners should still expect that there’ll at least be an attempt to revive the centerpiece of his gun control agenda when lawmakers gavel in the special session next month. Tactically speaking, there’s no reason for Northam to tip his hand by calling for gun control today, which would only serve to energize gun owners at a time when he’d prefer them to be blissfully unaware of his plans. Far better, at least as far as Northam’s concerned, to not mention gun control for as long as possible while Democrats work on their reluctant colleagues in private over the next few weeks.

Well, gun owners need to be working on their legislators as well. In particular, those Virginians represented by senators Scott Surovell, Creigh Deeds, Chap Petersen, and John Edwards need to be in contact with their lawmakers to encourage them to stand by their rejection of HB961. Those Democrats joined with Republicans in voting “no” when HB961 came up in the Senate Judiciary Committee back in February, and they need to be receiving some positive reinforcement from constituents before they head back to the state capitol next month.

Exit question: will their be another massive rally in support of the Second Amendment outside the state capitol like we saw back in January, even with Ralph Northam banning all gatherings of more than 100 people? We’ve seen anti-police protests with hundreds of people regularly taking place in Richmond over the past few months, and neither the governor nor Richmond’s mayor have done much to break up any peaceful protests. Something tells me that if Virginians do rally in defense of their Second Amendment rights, Northam and Mayor Levar Stoney may treat that large gathering a little differently.