RICHMOND, Va. -- The special session of the Virginia General Assembly called by Democratic Governor Ralph Northam to address gun violence in the wake of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach that left 12 dead did not even make it to the end of the business day.
Just over an hour after convening, both Republican-controlled chambers abruptly voted to adjourn until November 18, after this year’s election in which every House and Senate seat is up for grabs.
At a news conference afterward, Republican leadership criticized Gov. Northam for calling the special session and said it was too early, as a review of what happened at Virginia Beach had not been completed.
"The investigation into these events is ongoing," House of Delegates Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights) and Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment, Jr. (R-James City) wrote in a letter to the Crime Commission Chairman and Vice-Chairman. "The Virginia Beach City Council recently authorized an independent investigation into the tragedy that hopefully will provide much-needed insight. The Crime Commission should carefully review any findings that are available because of the independent investigation as part of its effort."
They added that the special session was nothing more than a political stunt during an election year.
"The speed which the governor called the session, the partisan demands for floor votes, the roadshow all demonstrate to me how the whole thing is just an election year stunt," Cox said at a news conference following the adjournment. "We all share the goal of reducing gun violence in Virginia."
Governor Northam expressed his disappointment with what transpired.
"I called legislators back to Richmond for this special session so we could take immediate action to address the gun violence emergency that takes more than a thousand Virginians’ lives each year. I expected lawmakers to take this seriously. I expected them to do what their constituents elected them to do—discuss issues and take votes," he said in a statement. "It is shameful and disappointing that Republicans in the General Assembly refuse to do their jobs, and take immediate action to save lives. I expected better of them. Virginians expect better of them."
Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring, also a Democrat, called the Republicans' actions pathetic.
"For years Republicans have hidden behind subcommittees to block these bills and duck accountability. This time they didn’t even pretend," he said.
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney also slammed Republican lawmakers for their decision to adjourn, calling them “spineless” and “flat-out cowardly.”
"By not allowing for a single vote on legislation or a single word of debate on commonsense gun control bills, they dishonored the victims of gun violence across Virginia," Mayor Stoney said.
While the two chambers have adjourned, several committees will meet Tuesday afternoon to refer bills to the Crime Commission.
Before the session started, groups from both sides of the gun debate, gun-rights and gun-control advocates, rallied outside the Virginia statehouse.
"We want our freedom to defend ourselves," Ken Van Wyk, pro-gun supporter, said. "We want to retain our gun rights and we don’t want them infringed upon. We want them to be our rights and be able to have and carry our firearms for self-defense."
Christine Payne, who would like to see the state pass gun regulation, explained her stance on the issue.
"We're not looking to impede upon the rights of law-abiding gun owners," she said. "What we want to do is to make sure that we are keeping guns and dangerous weapons out of the hands of people who have a proclivity to violence."