AP Photo/Steve Helber
Since the Parkland massacre and the ensuing media push, there have been times when it has felt like gun control was going to wash clean over us. Intellectually, I knew the pendulum would swing back like it always does, but I wondered how bad the damage would be first. While there are signs that the pendulum is starting to swing back, there’s still a lot we need to do to make sure we don’t lose a whole lot of ground.
It seems Virginia Republicans did precisely that on Tuesday.
Less than two hours after beginning a special session called in response to a mass shooting, Virginia lawmakers abruptly adjourned Tuesday and postponed any movement on gun laws until after the November election.
Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam summoned the Republican-led Legislature to the Capitol to address gun violence in the wake of the May 31 attack that killed a dozen people in Virginia Beach. He put forward a package of eight gun-control measures and called for “votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers” in reaction to the massacre.
But not a single vote was cast on the legislation. Republican leaders said the session was premature and politically motivated. They assigned the state’s bipartisan crime commission to study the Virginia Beach shooting and the governor’s proposed legislation.
In reply, angry Democrats said Republicans were beholden to the gun lobby and afraid of passing commonsense laws they know will save lives.
Except, we know for a fact that none of the proposals being floated would have done a damn thing about Virginia Beach. Even Northam has admitted that. So Democrats, pretending this was all about saving lives, are being ridiculous.
Besides, we all know what this was really about. Northam was doing everything he could to deflect attention away from his scandal.
Republicans said it was Northam, still dealing with the fallout of a blackface scandal that almost drove him from office, who acted improperly. Instead of pushing for votes on legislation that would not have prevented the Virginia Beach shooting, they said, the governor should have called for a blue-ribbon commission to study gun and mental health issues. That is similar to what U.S. Sen. Tim Kaine did as governor following a 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech that left 32 people dead and more than a dozen wounded.
“Quite frankly, we need to take a little bit deeper look at these issues and actually do something rather than stage manage a vote in which we’re just trying to embarrass each other,” said state Sen. Mark Obenshain.
After the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, the state passed a law prohibiting people deemed seriously mentally ill from buying a gun. But a push at the time for universal background checks failed.
It failed because the Virginia Tech killer passed a background check. He shouldn’t have, but he did. Adding more background checks wouldn’t have prevented anything.
You see, a lot of people don’t mind legislatures passing a bit of gun control here and there if it’s clear it’s about stopping the next mass shooting. However, if the proposal has no bearing on what happened, far fewer people are going to be interested in it. It’s why universal background check legislation continues to fail after mass shootings. It’s because most of these shooters were able to pass a background check in the first place.
Now, should they have? The more we look at some of these people, the more we can say that as things currently stand, they probably shouldn’t have. The failure hasn’t been with gun stores or individual gun owners–the very people who would be impacted by gun control–but by government entities who dropped the ball.
That’s why universal background checks fail.
But Northam doesn’t care about that. What he cares about is deflecting attention from his racially insensitive past and wants to hijack the news cycle to work for him for a change.
Virginia Republicans, including the Senate majority leader who killed his gun control bill, handled this beautifully. State law required them to open the session per the governor’s order, but it doesn’t require them to do anything with it. They complied and did nothing else. I owe Sen. Tommy Norment an apology since I suspect his bill was calculated.
The downside is that it still gives Northam cover for his racist past. The media will focus on this and cast Northam as the brave hero trying to fight for gun control. They’ll talk about how the evil Republicans failed to act for the good of all mankind or some other such BS, and they’ll ignore the fact that this is a man who pranced around in blackface well after the time that was “acceptable” in the South.
As much as that sucks, at least there isn’t any new gun control coming down the line for Virginia gun owners and gun buyers. That’s a big win in my book.