Virginia Special Session Shows: How Gun Owners Must Mobilize To Defend Freedom

posted on August 21, 2019

As many Americans spent the July 4th weekend enjoying cookouts, parades, and fireworks with family and friends, NRA-ILA and Virginia gun-rights supporters honored American independence by mobilizing to defend our unique Constitutional rights and heritage.

On July 9, the Virginia General Assembly held a special session to consider gun-control legislation. Thanks to the monumental efforts of Old Dominion gun owners, the General Assembly convened without passing any new gun-control laws. That result should stand as an example to gun owners across the nation about the power of well-organized, grassroots gun-rights activism and the importance of getting personally involved in pro-gun efforts.

The special session was called by Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam following the May 31 attack at a public building in Virginia Beach. As has become the custom among gun-control advocates, Gov. Northam wasted little time in attempting to convert the tragedy into a political opportunity. Northam announced the special session during a press conference on June 4—well before a comprehensive investigation of the crime had taken place.

It wasn’t until July 2 that the Virginia Beach City Council voted a unanimous 10-0 in favor of a resolution directing the city auditor to arrange for an independent review of the May 31 attack. That report is still forthcoming as of press time.

Northam’s move was a sharp departure from the more deliberative track taken by Gov. Tim Kaine following the 2007 tragedy at Virginia Tech. In the wake of that tragedy, then-Gov. Kaine convened a bipartisan review panel, and lawmakers enacted thoughtful legislation to keep firearms out of the hands of certain individuals with severe mental illnesses.

Some lawmakers openly questioned whether Northam’s haste was as much an attempt to distract from ongoing political scandals as it was an effort to enact gun control. In February, a racist photo from Northam’s medical-school yearbook page surfaced. As a result, Northam’s favorability ratings plummeted, while the state’s black caucus and media outlets called for him to resign. Northam’s prospects looked dim until an even more explosive scandal erupted involving multiple sexual-assault allegations against his would-be successor, Democratic
Gov. Justin Fairfax.

As noted, the facts of the Virginia Beach shooting attack incident are still somewhat limited, but here is what we do know. On the afternoon of May 31, 2019, a disgruntled Virginia Beach city engineer entered Municipal Center Building 2, and killed 11 of his colleagues and a contractor. The perpetrator accessed the building using his employee keycard. According to multiple news reports, the perpetrator carried out the attack with two .45-caliber handguns, one of which was equipped with a suppressor. A Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) investigation showed the firearms were purchased legally—one in 2016 and the other in 2018. The New York Times reported that the perpetrator had served in the Virginia Army National Guard and had “no obvious criminal history.”

This fact pattern did not lend itself to gun-control advocates’ pre-packaged policies. Nonetheless, Northam used the tragedy as a platform to push a raft of ineffective gun-control measures. Revealing the crass opportunism at play, several of the governor’s proposals already had been considered and rejected during the Regular Session of the General Assembly that ran from January through March.

Some lawmakers openly questioned whether Northam’s haste was as much an attempt to distract from ongoing political scandals as it was an effort to enact gun control.

As outlined in a July 7 press release, Northam’s top gun-control priority was criminalizing the private transfer of firearms, imprecisely referred to as “universal background checks.” This gun-control measure does not stop criminals from obtaining firearms. A 2016 U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) survey of state and federal prison inmates found that 75 percent had gained access to a firearm by theft—“off the street/underground market,” or “from a family member or friend, or as a gift.” None of the high-profile shootings in the last five years with 10 or more fatalities would have been prevented by “universal background checks.” The perpetrator of the Virginia Beach attack purchased his handguns legally and had no prohibiting criminal record.

Next on Northam’s gun-control wish list was a ban on commonly owned, semi-automatic rifles. Rifles are rarely used to commit criminal violence. FBI data from 2017 showed there were more homicides that year committed with “blunt objects (clubs, hammers, etc.)” or “personal weapons (hands, fists, feet, etc.)” than with any kind of rifle. A pair of DOJ-funded studies (1997 and 2004) of the 1994 Clinton semi-automatic ban found the measure ineffective, with the latter noting, “the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement.” A semi-automatic rifle ban would not have thwarted the perpetrator in Virginia Beach, since he carried out the attack with two pistols.

Northam demanded the General Assembly enact a “one-gun-a-month law.” Virginia had a one-handgun-a-month law from 1993 to 2012. At the time the original law was passed, it was sold by gun-control advocates as a way to restrict gun trafficking from Virginia to New York. In the three years before the 2012 repeal, the ATF traced 1,265 firearms recovered in the Empire State back to the Old Dominion. In the three years after repeal, the ATF traced less guns (1,259) traveling between the jurisdictions. The proposal would have had no effect on the Virginia Beach attacker because he purchased the handguns used for his crime two years apart.

The governor also called on legislators to weaken Virginia’s firearms-preemption law. It is difficult to overstate the threat this regressive proposal posed to law-abiding gun owners. Empowering Virginia’s 95 counties and 38 independent cities to create their own gun-free zones would destroy the right to carry by subjecting concealed-handgun-permit holders to an incomprehensible patchwork of local restrictions. Worse, in the days before Virginia’s pre-emption statute, some of the state’s localities imposed their own permit to purchase requirements—72-hour waiting periods, gun-dealer licensing and taxation schemes, and gun registries.

Another gun-free zone sign would not have prevented the unhinged employee with keycard access from covertly bringing a firearm into the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. However, had Virginia Beach municipal employees been allowed to exercise their right to carry on the job, things might have turned out differently. After the attack, two Virginia Beach city employees started a petition to end the city policy restricting carry by municipal employees on the job so that workers might be prepared to thwart any future attack. The husband of one Virginia Beach victim told The Virginian-Pilot that he had urged his wife to carry at work after she expressed concerns about the behavior of a fellow employee. The husband said she did not for fear of violating employee policy.

The absurdity of Northam’s proposals as a response to the Virginia Beach attack wasn’t lost on some of the state’s youngest residents. During a June 21 event at Radford University, a high-school-age boy questioned the governor on whether any of his proposals would have prevented the Virginia Beach attack. The Roanoke Times reported that “Northam conceded that his proposals wouldn’t have necessarily prevented the Virginia Beach shooting.”

NRA-ILA’s preparations to win on July 9 started the moment Northam announced his plans for a special session. NRA-ILA immediately informed members and other gun-rights supporters by email, postcard, and phone of the impending special session and the severe threat it posed to their Second Amendment rights. Members were repeatedly asked to contact their lawmakers and make their position known—which thousands upon thousands did.

organized four heavily attended town halls to mobilize members for political action in various regions of the state, including one in Virginia Beach. Gun-control advocates tried to use the Virginia Beach rally as a way to attack the NRA. Our opponents should understand that the NRA has thousands of supporters in the Virginia Beach area who deserve to have their fundamental rights defended just as vigorously as those of every other American. Moreover, the opposition should recognize that the NRA and our members will not be silenced or shamed into being collectively punished for the violent acts of a deranged individual.

NRA-ILA staff created and directed members to it for the latest information on the special session. The site was populated with fact sheets undermining each of Northam’s gun-control proposals, which members were urged to share with family, friends and fellow gun-rights supporters. On the day of the special session, NRA-ILA was on hand near the Virginia State Capitol Building to provide information to attending gun-rights advocates and direct them to their lawmakers.

All of these efforts were essential to curtailing Northam’s gun-control proposals and all share a common thread. As the nation’s premier grassroots political organization, NRA-ILA’s ability to defend gun rights is dependent on you the member and your willingness to participate throughout every part of the political process.

Going forward in Virginia, NRA-ILA needs gun-rights supporters to get involved in the election on Nov. 5 when every seat in both houses of the Virginia General Assembly is at stake. Gun-control activists have already made clear that they will be back in Richmond to push their radical agenda when the legislature reconvenes after the election.

Across the country, NRA-ILA needs members to ensure they are registered to vote and signed up to receive email and telephone alerts about what is going on in their state and what they can do to defend gun rights. Those willing to invest more of their time in the fight to protect freedom should consider signing up as a FrontLines Activist Leader to help coordinate NRA-ILA's grassroots efforts on the ground in their states. All of the information necessary to stay informed and get involved can be found at

The Virginia special session was a critical step to defending our Second Amendment rights in the Commonwealth. Just as importantly, it demonstrated what gun owners must continue to do to preserve our rights into the future. NRA-ILA grassroots activism relies on the active participation of members like you to fuel our shared fight for freedom.


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