Toby is a junior and a first year Journalism student. He likes to play baseball and listen to music.
The Ever Growing Divide in Virginia
January 24, 2020
Ever since the truly historic flip of the Virginia General Assembly, the Old Dominion has been a hotbed for 2nd amendment squabbles.
On Nov. 6, Virginia Democrats gained control of both the House of Delegates and the Senate, turning their government fully blue for the first time since 1994. Governor Ralph Northam, who has consistently been a staunch supporter of gun reform, will now see an easier path to the passing of new gun control legislation.
In July of last year, following the fatal mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal building, Northam called a special session in the General Assembly in an attempt to float new gun control measures. The Republican-held chambers voted to adjourn until Nov. 18, leaving the Governor frustrated with his GOP colleagues.
“It is shameful and disappointing that Republicans in the General Assembly refuse to do their jobs, and take immediate action to save lives,” said Northam in a statement made after the abrupt session.
On Jan. 10, Virginia lawmakers passed legislation that effectively banned the carrying of firearms in both the Capitol and the Pocahontas Building. Even citizens wielding a concealed carry permit are now barred from possessing a firearm on those grounds.
“I think it is a little too harsh…I don’t think he [the governor] should have gone as far as he did,” said senior Ethan Hartung when asked about the recent gun control measures. Others believe that Governor Northam didn’t go far enough. “I feel that we need to take more control over the people that have access to guns. Many people who aren’t deemed responsible to own a firearm can still access them,” said senior Alexis Smith.
Despite concern from some representatives who frequently openly carry when at the Capitol to vote, Capitol police said they would not arrest any lawmakers who violate the ban.
In response to the recent legislation, members of the NRA (National Rifle Association) made a trip to the now gun-free capitol and handed out 30-round magazines on Jan. 13. Some claimed that over 1,000 2nd amendment supporters attended the rally.
On Jan. 20, another larger gun rights gathering took place at Richmond Capitol, garnering nationwide attention. Credible threats of violence and chaos from people who announced that they would attend the rally prompted Governor Northam to declare a state of temporary state of emergency in the commonwealth. Three people associated with violent, racist, extremist groups were arrested in Maryland and Delaware in connection to the threats.
However, those individuals’ actions were not indicative of the events that took place in the Capitol on Jan. 20. It is estimated that 22,000 people flocked to Richmond in support of gun rights that day, with roughly 6,000 gathered in the designated rally area and another 16,000 outside. Despite the overwhelming amount of attendees, the crowd remained peaceful with no reports of violence, and some news reports noted that attendees even cleaned up after themselves.
The event took place only days after four gun control bills launched from the Democratic-led Virginia Senate Judiciary Committee, which then passed them through to the Virginia Senate. The bills would require background checks on all firearm purchases, including private sales, limit handgun purchases to one per month, enable localities to ban guns in public spaces, and enact controversial Red Flag laws.
While some feel that the recent rally is a step in the right direction to the de-escalation of tension that has been building in Virginia, others feel that the effects on the legislature will be limited. They argue that as long as the Democrats have control of the state government, gun control will be in Virginia to stay.