Last month, after a horrendous gun massacre at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Virginia governor Ralph Northam called a special legislative session to consider long-stalled gun-safety legislation, directly challenging Republicans to abandon their total opposition to any gun legislation. Some GOP legislators, notably state senate majority leader Thomas Norment, indicated an openness to discussion of the topic in light of the loss of life.
That was then. This is now: Republican leaders adjourned both chambers of the legislature 90 minutes after the special session was gaveled into order, as the Associated Press reports:
It was a familiar outcome in a stalled debate that plays out yearly in Virginia on an issue that has divided the nation for more than two decades.
“I wasn’t expecting much, but I wasn’t expecting this,” said Andy Parker, whose journalist daughter, Alison Parker, was shot to death on live TV in Virginia in 2015, along with a cameraman.
“This is just a complete, disgraceful act of cowardice by the Republicans … And I think it’s going to backfire on them,” he said.
Majority Leader Norment had offered some hope of at least a discussion by filing his own bill making possession of firearms in a local-government building a felony. But then he flip-flopped on his own bill, as the Washington Post reports:
Norment faced an intense backlash from members of his own party and the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group, and moments after Tuesday’s session began, he announced he was pulling the bill.
“I do not support — nor will I support — any measure that restricts the constitutional rights of law-abiding citizens,” Norment said.
Norment’s change of heart was likely encouraged by a crowd of “law-abiding citizens” who showed up at the State Capitol with their shooting irons to intimidate Republicans:
Earlier Tuesday, armed militia members and gun control activists had swarmed the grounds and streets outside the State Capitol building.
Men in camouflage, some with holstered handguns dangling from their hips, gathered not far from a heavily female crowd wearing red “Moms Demand Action” T-shirts. Busloads of activists rolled into the city, their passengers bracing for a long day.
By 8:30 a.m. about 150 pro-gun demonstrators, several carrying assault rifles, gathered outside the white-columned building.
So the GOP legislators got right out of town.
There’s no question Governor Northam called the special session to put Republicans on the spot not long before the entire legislature faces voters in November, with the GOP holding narrow margins in both chambers after big losses in 2017. But it’s doubtful anyone expected so contemptuous a rejection of public concern over gun violence. And aside from whatever rhetoric Northam and his Democrats deploy on the subject, Virginia Republicans themselves are ensuring that it’s understood a vote for them is a vote for the “arm everybody” faction of Second Amendment absolutists.