If you want to know how things have rolled in Virginia on the firearms issue, consider that Gun Lobby Day is an unofficial but highly memorable event held every year at the state capitol on Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
“That was so wrong for so many reasons,” Jennifer Wexton, a former state senator who is now a member of Congress, observed about the timing of the pro-firearms offensive. Wexton, first drawn to politics in part by her desire for tougher gun laws, said that the state Senate’s Republican leadership would “put up all the gun bills on that day and kill them, one after another.”
It was quite a spectacle, said State Sen. Janet Howell, who, like Wexton, is a northern Virginia Democrat. “We would have citizens wandering the halls carrying Uzis and other assault weapons,” she said. “That was Virginia, darlin’.”
But it may not be Virginia anymore, or so Wexton, Howell and other advocates of gun safety hope. On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam announced he was calling a special session of the state Legislature to take up a package of gun-control bills in the wake of last week’s mass shooting in Virginia Beach. They include many measures that Republicans, who narrowly control both houses of the state Legislature, have smothered in committee before.
They may try to do this again. But it will be harder with an election looming this fall and the power on the gun issue shifting toward those who favor regulations that only the most fanatical gun-rights advocates would question. They include background checks, restrictions of silencers and bump stocks, and “red flag” laws allowing families to seek the removal of firearms from those they fear pose a danger.