Sen. Dick Black was the first to lay bare the real reason Republican lawmakers used their slim majorities to call it quits on the July 9 special session on gun violence before debating a single bill.
Black, a Republican whose 13th District crosses Prince William and Loudoun counties, said it was a matter of counting the votes.
“We don't have the votes to stop this wave of bills designed to distract voters from the governor's scandals,” Black said in a Facebook post.
Similarly, state Sen. Amanda Chase, a Republican representing Chesterfield County in the 11th District, went on Jeff Fredericks’ radio show Monday morning and said the quick departure was meant to guard against “weak-kneed” Republicans who couldn’t be trusted to vote against the bills Gov. Ralph Northam (D) and others proposed for the rare, mid-summer meeting.
“To answer your question, why didn’t we just vote them up or down, there was some concern that we did not have the votes in the House to be able to defeat these measures,” Chase told Fredericks.
“There were some weak-kneed Republicans on the House side that could have very well voted for some of these bills, and we couldn’t take that chance in an election year. So that’s the play that was made. It was one that we agreed on in advance.”
One we agreed on in advance? Although not surprising, that’s likely news to most Democrats who seemed stunned after the GOP moved to abruptly end the special session after only 90 minutes.
Many were angry. As we reported, state Sen. Scott Surovell, a Democrat whose 36th District covers parts of Fairfax, Prince William and Stafford counties, called his Republican colleagues “cowards.”
“They’re hiding behind procedural tricks to avoid telling the voters where they really stand on issues,” Surovell said.
Chase, who’s known for wearing her holstered pistol in the Senate building and for a recent high-profile squabble with Capitol police over a parking space, went on to promise Fredericks she would not vote “in any way” against Virginians’ gun rights. She also said she’d seek to “eliminate gun-free zones” around the state because they effectively “disarm our law-abiding citizens.”
For the record, Virginia doesn’t have many “gun-free zones,” aside from churches, public schools and parts of public college campuses. Virginians can carry guns into most public buildings, including libraries. So it’s hard to know exactly what she means, but at least voters in her district know where she stands.
We appreciate the candor of elected officials – including Black, Chase and Surovell – who are clear about their position on bills that aim to mitigate the deadly scourge of gun violence.
We were disappointed to receive less information from Del. Tim Hugo, a Republican whose 40th District straddles western Fairfax and Prince William counties. When we asked his opinion, Hugo shared Republican House Speaker Kirk Cox’s statement – saying the bills need more study by the Virginia Crime Commission – but added no further comment.
Some of bills Northam proposed have already been thoroughly discussed. They include background checks for all firearm transactions and bans on assault weapons, large-capacity magazines and silencers. Northam also proposed beefing up punishments for allowing children under 18 to access loaded firearms.
According to polls taken in 2016 and 2018, Virginia voters largely support these ideas.
When the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University asked voters in 2018 about whether private firearm and gun show sales should be subject to background checks, 84 percent said they should.
A smaller but still solid majority supported banning assault-style weapons: 65 percent.
There is, however, a strong partisan divide. Democrats overwhelmingly favor gun control according to the Wason polls (82 to 13 percent in 2018; and 82 to 15 percent in 2016).
Republicans, meanwhile, strongly favor gun rights (64 to 32 percent in 2018; and 66 to 31 percent in 2016).
These polls tell us how voters feel about some of the bills Republican lawmakers declined to discuss July 9. Now, thanks to lawmakers’ actions and their comments in the wake of the special session, voters, too, have more information about where their elected officials stand.
So, when it comes to gun-safety bills, who really has the votes? We’ll know the answer to that question when the polls close Nov. 5.