Gov. Northam calls special session on guns | News Coverage from USA

Gov. Northam calls special session on guns

Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam on Tuesday ordered a special legislative session to address gun violence, four days after a public works employee killed 12 people in a  shooting rampage at a municipal building in Virginia Beach.

“The nation is watching,” Northam said at a new conference. “We must do more than give our thoughts and prayers. We must give Virginians the action they deserve.”

Northam said he would seek universal background checks, a ban on suppressors, a extreme risk protective order, child access prevention and other restrictions.

“It is wrong that we now view these mass shootings as the new normal,” Northam said. “It is past time to change.”

Northam said he had previously asked the Legislature for a number of tighter gun restrictions. But he said lawmakers repeatedly rejected his requests. 

“This weekend’s tragedy … must instill in us a new urgency to act,” he said. “If we can save one life because we acted now, it is worth it.”

Northam, a physician, rejected claims that it is “too soon” after the tragedy to address the issues. Delays, he said, would only result in more deaths. Northam did not immediately reveal the dates for the special session.

“As an Army doctor, I have seen first hand what a bullet does to a body,” he said. “And I saw it again this weekend. I can’t imagine the devastation these families are suffering.”

Lt. Gov. Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark Herring were among state leaders who also appeared at news conference, echoing their fellow Democrat’s call for action. The three leaders have each been embroiled in controversy in recent months.

In February, a blackface photo surfaced from Northam’s medical school yearbook. Northam initially apologized, then said he wasn’t in the photo. Days later, Fairfax was accused of sexual assault, which he adamantly denies, stemming from a 2004 encounter. That drew calls for his ouster. Then, Herring admitted he, too, donned blackface in the 1980s. 

Calls for their resignations have eased in recent weeks, and Northam has been a face of the response to the shooting in Virginia Beach.

The suspected shooter, a civil engineer who worked for the city for 15 years, was fatally shot after a standoff with police. The shooting, the nation’s deadliest of the year, unfolded Friday afternoon around 4 p.m. when the gunman shot the first victim outside Building 2, a three-story brick structure with about 400 municipal workers.

Police say the shooter attached a suppressor, also known as a silencer, to the .45-caliber handgun that he fired on three floors of the building where he worked. Virginia is among 42 states that allow residents to purchase and possess suppressors, though some cities – including Virginia Beach – prohibit them.  

Authorities said the suspected shooter legally bought multiple firearms recently, but they have not said how he got a suppressor.

Northam traveled to Virginia Beach hours after the shooting, comforting survivors and helping coordinate the response to the shooting. He also spoke with President Trump and lobbied at a press conference last week for tighter gun controls.

Contributing: Brad Zinn and Kristin Lam, USA TODAY

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