Nearly a dozen local leaders met for a roundtable discussion with Sen. Tim Kaine, D-VA, Monday to demand gun control legislation.
The discussion was hosted by the Charlottesville chapter of Moms Demand Action and spurred by the May 31 mass shooting in a Virginia Beach municipal building that killed 12 people.
In the wake of the shooting, Gov. Ralph Northam called a July 9 special session of the General Assembly to specifically take up gun-control legislation.
According to the Washington Post, the shooter, who was killed in a shootout with police, was found carrying two legally purchased .45-caliber handguns. He also had a silencer mechanism and extended-capacity magazines.
Monday, Kaine promised to continue to fight for “common-sense” gun legislation, and said he is frustrated by a lack of legislative action in the face of so many mass shootings.
“The General Assembly of Virginia and Congress of the United States has been a bystander as these things happen over and over and over again,” he said. “We know there are strategies that work, it’s not as if we can’t figure out an answer to these questions.”
As a congressman, Kaine said he will continue to push two specific bills, both aimed at bolstering background checks to purchase firearms.
One of the bills, H.R. 8, would require background checks on all firearm sales in the country, which currently only licensed gun dealers do. The second, HR 1112, would close the “Charleston loophole,” which allows some firearms to be transferred by licensed gun dealers before background checks have been completed. This loophole allowed Dylann Roof to buy a gun in 2015 and murder nine people at Mother Emanuel Church in Charleston, S.C.
Kaine said he is hopeful there would be enough votes to pass the legislation, but first Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell would have to allow a vote.
After speaking, Kaine listened to local leaders as they shared their thoughts about potential solutions and problems they have faced.
Heather Hill, Charlottesville’s vice mayor, said she is frustrated by the lack of authority local officials have to ban weapons from certain public spaces. In the last two years, the city has faced continued threats of violence, she said, and officials’ hands have been tied.
“After the shooting in Virginia Beach I just kept imagining the spaces in our own city hall,” she said. “I think about our council chambers where we’re asking for citizens to come to us to share their thoughts but we can’t stop someone from bringing a gun into that room.”
Charlottesville Police Department Capt. James Mooney said the increase in the power of firearms used to commit crimes has forced police officials to have an “arsenal” of their own weapons. He also expressed frustration with the inability to forbid firearms from the Downtown Mall during the weekend 2018 anniversary of the deadly Unite the Right rally.
“We banned knives and stuff from the downtown mall in preparation anniversary, but you could just carry an assault rifle on your shoulder and it would be perfectly fine,” he said.
Sen. Creigh Deeds, D-Bath, said for years he has been trying to pass gun control legislation in the Virginia General Assembly with little success. Just this past session, Deeds said a bill that would have allowed Charlottesville to be added to a list of cities banning firearms from government buildings died in committee.
The ballot is Virginia residents’ greatest tool to effect change, Deeds said, pointing to a lack of meaningful federal legislation in the wake of other mass shootings, specifically the 2007 incident at Virginia Tech that claimed the lives of 33 people.
“It felt like if something was going to happen, it would have happened there,” he said. “When the children at Sandy Hook were killed, it felt like something would happen then.”
Carol Busching, a teacher at Burnley-Moran Elementary School, said each year she has to learn new drills to defend her students in case of a mass shooting.
“To have someone else experience that, I think that’ll change some minds,” she said. “Come experience that with us, especially those who may not agree with us.”
There is no requirement for how long the special legislative session of the Virginia General Assembly will last when it convenes on July 9.