‘Time is now’ for action on gun control, Va. Gov. Northam tells WTOP

Five days after a gunman massacred 12 people inside a Virginia Beach municipal building, Gov. Ralph Northam told WTOP on Wednesday that he expects state lawmakers “to do the right thing” and return to Richmond for a special session to consider a package of gun control measures.

“People have said that this is too soon to talk about legislation, but I would make the argument that it’s actually too late,” Northam said. “And there’s never a good time, but the time is now.”

Northam’s bills include a ban on suppressors (often referred to as “silencers” that dampen the sound of a gun shot) and high-capacity magazines, as well as a broadening of the ability of local governments to prohibit guns in city buildings.

The gunman in Friday’s mass shooting, DeWayne Craddock, used two semi-automatic handguns, a suppressor and extended pistol magazines to slaughter 12 people. Craddock was then killed in a gun battle with police.

The bills have been defeated in subcommittees before, but the governor thinks things will be different this time because “that’s what Virginians are asking for.”

“I am bringing back the General Assembly — hopefully in the latter part of June, we’re still working on the exact dates — to address common-sense gun legislation that will save lives in Virginia,” Northam told WTOP. “Starting with universal background checks — that’s something that 90% of Virginians approve of.”

Northam said he also wants a ban on so-called assault weapons and action to address bump stocks, as well as a “red flag” law that would allow authorities to seize weapons from people deemed a threat to themselves or others and a limit of one handgun purchase per month (similar legislation had been enacted in the state in 1993 but was repealed in 2012).

“People can buy as many firearms as they would like in Virginia. They often end up in markets up in New York,” Northam said.

He added that child protection laws concern him, regarding people leaving loaded firearms accessible in homes where there are kids.

“We need to increase the penalty for that,” he told WTOP.

Watch Northam’s Tuesday news conference:

In a statement Tuesday, GOP Speaker Kirk Cox dismissed the governor’s call for a special session as “hasty and suspect when considered against the backdrop of the last few months” — a reference to the blackface photo scandal that nearly destroyed Northam’s career.

Cox said the Republicans will instead put forward legislation to toughen penalties — including new, mandatory minimum sentences — for those who use guns to commit crimes.

“We believe addressing gun violence starts with holding criminals accountable for their actions, not infringing on the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” he said.

Another top Republican, Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, noted that the governor is pushing for legislation that already failed earlier this year. “This governor has opted for political posturing over solutions,” Norment said.

National Rifle Association spokeswoman Jennifer Baker accused Northam of “exploiting a tragedy to push his failed political agenda” on Tuesday.

Virginia is generally considered a very gun-friendly state and is home to the NRA headquarters. After the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre, in which a student with a history of mental problems shot 32 people to death, the state passed a law prohibiting people adjudicated as seriously mentally ill from buying a gun. But a push at the time for universal background checks failed.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Rick Massimo

Rick Massimo came to WTOP, and to Washington, in 2012 after having lived in Providence, R.I., since he was a child. He went to George Washington University as an undergraduate and is regularly surprised at the changes to the city since that faraway time.

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