There may have been plenty of political theater in Richmond on Tuesday, but little productive discussion on the divisive issue of gun control.
But that’s a discussion that needs to happen, said Sen. Emmett Hanger, R-Mount Solon.
“The real story will play out in the elections this fall,” said Hanger, speaking Wednesday. “Probably the best forum. ... I think we need a broad discussion for all the issues out there.”
On Tuesday, though, Hanger and his 19 Republican Senate colleagues voted to adjourn a special session shortly after it was convened. Gov. Ralph Northam called for the session to take up a slew of gun bills he and Democratic lawmakers championed.
The 20-19 vote, strictly along party lines, ended without any legislation being passed.
The House of Delegates, where Republicans hold a 51-48 majority, similarly adjourned, setting up a Nov. 18 date for the General Assembly to reconvene to try again. When lawmakers next meet, it will be after after the general election in which every seat in both chambers will be decided — creating a possibility many of them may be lame ducks who will not be returning in 2020.
In June, Hanger fended off a primary challenge from the right by Tina Freitas of Culpeper, who accused the longtime lawmaker of being too liberal on gun rights for the 24th Senatorial District, a claim Hanger pushes back on. During the Nov. 5 general election, he is facing Annette Hyde of Madison County.
Northam called for the session in the wake of the latest mass shooting in which a gunman killed 12 people at a Virginia Beach municipal building on May 31.
Among bills Democrats supported were proposals for universal background checks, an assault weapons ban, requiring people to report lost and stolen firearms, and tougher penalties when firearms are left in the presence of minors, according to The Roanoke Times. Northam also sought extreme risk protection orders to allow a police officer or prosecutor to petition a judge for a warrant to seize legally owned guns if someone is determined to be an immediate threat to themselves or others.
Senate Majority Leader Thomas Norment Jr., R-James City, had filed a bill that he later pulled after fierce opposition for gun-rights supporters that would have banned firearms from local government buildings around the state and make any violation a felony. State law now bans guns only in courthouses, and a violation is a misdemeanor.
Hanger said he believed it was a mistake for Northam to recall the lawmakers for a special session to take up specific pieces of legislation rather than having a broad discussion of gun violence, including mental health reforms.
“I had proposed a joint legislative committee to take a broad look into what’s was causing a tendency for so much violence,” Hanger said. “I believe it would have been better [to take up gun legislation] at the next regular session.”
Those proposals have been to referred to Senate and House committees, which in turn have been referred to the Virginia State Crime Commission, he said.
There seemed to be little common ground Tuesday at the Capitol, with crowds lining up on both sides “yelling and screaming [looking] ready to start a war,” Hanger said.
Despite the vocal and seemingly intractable opposing camps, Hanger said he does believe consensus can be found.
“I believe so. I hope to have more of a public discussion to reach out to both sides,” he said, saying that the issue of bump stocks, as an example, could be an area where an agreement can be reached.
But some groups are so extreme in their positions, he said, that any legislation, including a bill he supports requiring a permit to carry a concealed weapon, is viewed as “a complete assault on the Second Amendment. It’s not that all.”
Those groups, he said, “need to be a part of the conversation. Most people want reasonable protections. ... We can do some things that protect the Second Amendment while at the same time creates a more secure environment and safety for our citizens.”