As the discussion on how to stop Virginia from suffering the next mass shooting or school shooting ramped up in the wake of Parkland, Democrats in the Virginia legislature called for Republicans to take action. This year, dozens of bills that would have helped prevent gun violence, bills that would take common sense reforms like banning bump stocks, universal background checks, and requiring a minor to get a parent’s permission to keep guns in the house, were killed the first week of session in Republican-controlled committees, with almost no discussion.
Democrats spoke over and over last week about the urgent need to take action to prevent gun violence, not to wait until the next legislative session to try again. Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn (D-41) told how her sister was the victim of gun violence at work; Delegate Dawn Adams (D-68) read a moving letter from a school teacher who didn’t sign up to teach in order to plan how to shelter kids from a mass shooting; the Caucus held a press conference to talk about gun violence prevention; Democratic leader Delegate David Toscano (D-57) literally begged House Republicans to take action.
And Delegate Mark Levine (D-45), well….Delegate Levine wrote a passionate, angry newsletter to his own constituents, calling out Republicans for their inaction, for refusing to consider banning the AR-15, a weapon that he says is designed for “mass murder, mass destruction.” In response, Senate Republicans punished Del. Levine by bringing up for a reconsideration vote two bills completely unrelated to guns, which had already passed both chambers already and were on their way to the Governor’s desk. One is a bill to allow shelters to administer critical medicine and perform critical procedures on animals brought into the shelter. They’ve been passing that bill by for the day, over and over, trying to silence Levine. Yes, that’s right–the Virginia GOP will allow shelter animals to die waiting for medical help, just to shut up a gun violence prevention advocate.
Did all this pressure from the public (Republican Delegate Todd Gilbert complained that he’s received boxes of Wet Wipes from constituents, suggesting he use them to wipe the blood of children killed by guns off his hands.) and from the Democratic legislators cause the Virginia GOP to rethink considering gun violence prevention legislation? No. Republicans instead claimed that they just simply can’t take action this year, because it’s too late. Conveniently, all the bills have already died, and they just can’t possibly do anything about it. But it’s not true. Because the rules the General Assembly follows are not some Constitutional absolutes, handed down for the last 400 years. The rules that they follow are rules they themselves agreed to and voted in on the first day of session! And if they want to change those rules, make an exception for something urgent, like addressing gun violence before the next mass shooting, guess what? They can! All it takes is a majority vote to change the rules (see Rule 81, on page 21)!
But great news! It looks like the Republicans have figured out how to bring up bills even though the rules supposedly say it’s too late! Senator Benton Chafin (R-38) just introduced a bill yesterday that’s speeding its way through the Senate, reported out of committee today! Is it a bill to ban sales of the AR-15 in Virginia? Or to require universal background checks to purchase a gun? Or to ban bump stocks? Um….no, actually, it’s a very innovative bill to allow shelters to administer critical medicine and perform critical procedures on animals brought into the shelter. Wait, what? Where have I heard that before? Oh, right, SB996, introduced yesterday in the Senate, is the exact same bill as HB424, introduced by Delegate Levine and passed out of both chambers February 20th, reconsidered shortly thereafter, and passed by for the day every day since.
It is utterly offensive to me as a citizen and taxpayer of Virginia that MY (GOP-controlled) General Assembly is so petty and childish that it will play ridiculous games of this nature. Is the (GOP-controlled) legislature doing the important work of and for the people of Virginia, or is this just about political posturing? It’s no wonder trust in government is at an all-time low.
No matter their petty motivation, as long as the Virginia GOP has opened the door for legislation to be brought up at this late date, let’s take the opportunity to DEMAND they take up gun violence prevention legislation! Don’t let them hide behind non-binding rules as an excuse for ignoring the will of their constituents. Demand action now; contact Speaker Cox at (804) 698-1066 and/or House Majority Leader Norment at 804.698.7503. Thanks.