In the aftermath of the May 31st slaughter at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, Governor Ralph Northam said that he wants to respond with, “Votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.” A primary responsibility of public servants is to keep us safe, and they owe it to the people to demonstrate that any new laws will actually result in a safer Commonwealth.

The Governor has now released the final list of bills that he’s hoping to get passed during the session that begins on July 9th. Although none of the bill language is available yet, Governor Northam has asked the legislature to take up:

  • Universal background checks
  • Ban on assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, bump stocks, and silencers
  • Restrict purchases to one handgun a month
  • Require reporting of lost or stolen firearms within 24-hours
  • Allow local governments in VA to enact even stricter gun control laws
  • Stricter penalties for allowing children to access firearms
  • Extreme risk protection orders, AKA Red Flag legislation

The Governor doesn’t indicate which of these proposed bills would have prevented the Virginia Beach killer from murdering 12 defenseless citizens, because they wouldn’t have. In fact, the Virginia Beach City Council has asked for an independent investigation of the killer to determine how to prevent such attacks in the future. 

Governor Northam ignores a number of facts that he should take into consideration if his goal is truly to make Virginia safer. According to the CDC, over 500,000-armed citizens act to save lives every year.  An overwhelming percentage of mass killings happen in Gun Free Zones. The Virginia Beach killer died after a gunfight with police. Given that the attack is reported to have lasted 40 minutes, might fewer people have been killed or injured had there been an armed citizen closer to where the killing started? That’s not a rhetorical question. Of course there would have been a chance to save lives.

Republicans, who hold a slight majority in the Virginia Legislature, are advocating for tougher penalties for those who use firearms in crimes, to include mandatory minimums. But the Governor has “sworn off” signing any more mandatory minimum laws, and recently vetoed two such bills. There is also an interesting proposal that would reduce prisoners’ sentences if they provide information to get drug-smugglers, gunrunners, and other organized crime off the street. These are far more effective proposals that will keep us safer from criminals, while not impacting the right of self-defense of ordinary, law-abiding citizens.

Legislators should also consider removing the “gun-free zone” designation in buildings such as the Virginia Beach Municipal Center, allowing those employees and visitors the chance to defend themselves from the danger of mass killings. We know that one victim, Kate Nixon, had considered bringing a firearm to work, due to her concerns about the recent behavior of two co-workers. But Kate left her firearm at home since her workplace was designated as a gun free zone. Of course, that designation didn’t stop the killer. It only stopped victims like Kate from potentially saving their own lives.