Gov. Ralph Northam held a ceremonial signing of several gun control bills that are already law on Thursday, just in case anyone had forgotten that the Democrat-controlled legislature approved a half-dozen bills earlier this year that took effect on July 1st. The centerpiece of Northam’s anti-gun agenda, however, failed to get out of the state Senate during the regular session. HB961 would have banned so-called “assault weapons,” ammunition magazines that could hold more than 13-rounds, as well as all lawfully owned suppressors. Four Democrats joined every Republican in voting against the measure, but there are growing concerns that the bill could be coming back in an anticipated special session later this summer.
Phillip Van Cleave, head of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, joins me on today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co. to talk about what gun owners should expect from the special session, which has yet to be formally announced by Northam. With tax revenues taking a hit from the coronavirus closures, however, lawmakers will almost certainly be called back into session to try to revise the state’s budget, and Democrats are already talking about broadening the scope of the session to include non-budgetary measures like police reform.
“We have seen and we have heard aggressive change is needed now, and we see this all over the commonwealth and the country,” House Speaker Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, said Thursday. “As the speaker and certainly as an elected official and leader, it’s our job to listen, but also I feel strongly it’s our job to act quickly.”
But precisely what reforms the House, Senate and Gov. Ralph Northam are prepared to advance remains to be seen.
Filler-Corn, who sets the agenda for the House and controls the flow of legislation, says she’s still working with lawmakers to develop a package of bills, which she said will be informed by listening sessions with constituents.
“We’re spending a lot of time looking at exactly the scope and what we can do,” she said. “So I’m not prepared to list that out. … The bottom line is we’re going to move quickly during the special session.”
Will those quick moves include another attempt at passing Northam’s gun, magazine, and suppressor ban? While nothing’s official, some Democrats like Del. Ken Plum are definitely hinting that HB961 or a revised version of the gun ban bill will be on the agenda.
The Governor is expected to call a special session for probably late August. It will have the broadest agenda of any special session on record. In addition to making tough decisions on the budget, legislators will be asked to enact new laws to further ease access to voting with the challenges COVID-19 makes for voters and to reform policing in very fundamental ways. Already the interested parties are starting their email campaigns to sway legislators on these issues.
None of these issues are over until it is over. One of the highlights of the regular session was the passage of my bill to require a background check for all gun purchases. Already the opponents of gun safety legislation have filed a lawsuit seeking an injunction blocking the expanded background checks that they contend are unconstitutional. I believe the courts will support the law as a necessary action of the legislature to keep the public safe.
The VCDL is one of those interested parties that has begun an email campaign to lobby lawmakers. In fact, more than 11,000 people have used the organization’s online portal to send a message to their representatives urging them to say “No” to any additional gun control laws, even as lawsuits filed by the VCDL and Gun Owners of America challenging the state’s new one-gun-a-month law and universal background check measures work their way through the court system.
Given the spike in gun sales in the state (and the nation) since early March, it’s quite possible that as many as 100,000 Virginians have become gun owners since Democrats took control of the state legislature last November. We need each and every one of them to stand up for their Second Amendment rights and to stay in touch with their lawmakers in the days and weeks ahead. I believe that if Northam’s gun ban bill comes up in the special session, we can once again defeat it, but we need new and long-time gun owners to be engaged starting now in order to increase our chances for success.
Be sure to check out the entire conversation with Phillip Van Cleave in the video window above, and stick around afterwards for more news, including a young man arrested in the murder of an 11-year old in Washington, D.C. who was out on bail on a felon in possession of a firearm charge, a self-defense shooting in California that could still result in charges for the armed employee of a gas station who protected himself from an armed robber, and a Houston, Texas man in the right place and at the right time to help both officers and a suspect who was resisting arrest.