(Reuters) - Virginia’s Democratic governor on Tuesday called for a special legislative session to consider new gun control laws following a massacre of 12 people, but a top Republican lawmaker immediately pushed back on a plan he called “hasty and suspect.”
Governor Ralph Northam has previously faced resistance from the legislature to increase restrictions on guns, with a package of gun controls he proposed as recently as January failing to pass before the legislative session ended in April.
“It is wrong, it is outrageous, it is unforgivable to turn our municipal centers, our schools, our churches and synagogues and mosques, into battlefields,” he said at a news conference, four days after a Virginia Beach city engineer shot dead 12 people at a municipal building.
“I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers,” Northam said.
Virginia House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox, a Republican, called the governor’s move “hasty and suspect” in a statement in which he said he was opposed to restrictions on gun ownership for people not convicted of crimes.
“While the Governor can call a special session, he cannot specify what the General Assembly chooses to consider or how we do our work,” Cox said. “We intend to use that time to take productive steps to address gun violence by holding criminals accountable with tougher sentences, including mandatory minimums.”
Republicans hold two-seat majorities in both Virginia legislative chambers.
The gunman used two handguns, purchased legally, that he reloaded with extended ammunition magazines and had a silencer on one of the weapons, according to the police.
Northam said he would propose universal background checks, a ban on some assault-style rifles and to reinstate a law that restricted Virginians from buying more than one gun a month. He also wants to require people to report lost and stolen guns and to expand local authority to regulate guns, including in government buildings.
“None of these ideas are radical,” he told reporters. He said 1,028 people were killed in Virginia by gun violence in 2017.
Northam, a former Army doctor with experience treating bullet wounds, said earlier efforts at passing similar legislation had died in committees under political pressure. He said he wanted the proposed legislation to be put to the entire General Assembly during the special session.
On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment said he was open to more gun control legislation after meeting crowds of protesters outside his office seeking more restrictions, according to the Virginia Gazette.
Northam is seeking to move past a scandal that brought calls for his resignation earlier this year after websites published a racist photograph that appeared on his page in the 1984 yearbook of the medical school he attended.
Reporting by Jonathan Allen; Editing by Scott Malone, Bill Trott and Bill Berkrot