Virginia crime commission begins hearing on gun violence

(Southside Daily/ Courtesy of Virginia Beach Police Department)

As the Virginia State Crime Commission began a hearing Monday on proposals to stem gun violence, Gov. Ralph Northam urged lawmakers to pass “commonsense” measures as he took a swipe at Republican leaders who called for further study.

Northam sent a letter to the commission as a two-day hearing got underway to review legislation introduced following a May 31 mass shooting that killed 12 people in Virginia Beach. Authorities have said that DeWayne Craddock, a city employee, fatally shot 12 people inside a municipal building before being shot and killed by police.

The Democratic governor convened a special legislative session in July to consider universal background checks, a red flag law and other gun safety proposals. The Republican-controlled Legislature quickly adjourned the session and referred the legislation to the crime commission.

In his letter, Northam said the proposals “do not need further study.” Northam said some of the proposals were initially recommended after a gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007.

“The assertion that more study is needed — 12 years and over 70 mass shootings after Virginia Tech — is inaccurate and inexcusable,” Northam wrote.

But state Sen. Mark Obenshain, the Republican chairman of the commission, criticized what he called a “politically driven agenda.” He said the crime commission is well-equipped to do a thoughtful evaluation of legislative proposals and to make recommendations before the General Assembly is set to reconvene in November.

“What the governor advanced was a legislative package that he admits would have had no impact whatsoever in preventing the shootings in Virginia Beach, and I’m disappointed that a governor would take a tragedy like what happened in Virginia Beach and try to capitalize upon that to advance a politically driven agenda rather than to … actually do something to keep Virginians safer,” Obenshain said during a break in the hearing.

The commission heard more than a half dozen presentations on gun violence from representatives of the Virginia State Police, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Explosives.

On Tuesday, the panel is scheduled to hear from the public and interest groups, and to review gun bills introduced during the special legislative session.

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John Mangalonzo (john@localvoicemedia.com) is the managing editor of Local Voice Media’s Virginia papers – WYDaily (Williamsburg), Southside Daily (Virginia Beach) and HNNDaily (Hampton-Newport News). Before coming to Local Voice, John was the senior content editor of The Bellingham Herald, a McClatchy newspaper in Washington state. Previously, he served as city editor/content strategist for USA Today Network newsrooms in St. George and Cedar City, Utah. John started his professional journalism career shortly after graduating from Lyceum of The Philippines University in 1990. As a rookie reporter for a national newspaper in Manila that year, John was assigned to cover four of the most dangerous cities in Metro Manila. Later that year, John was transferred to cover the Philippine National Police and Armed Forces of the Philippines. He spent the latter part of 1990 to early 1992 embedded with troopers in the southern Philippines as they fought with communist rebels and Muslim extremists. His U.S. journalism career includes reporting and editing stints for newspapers and other media outlets in New York City, California, Texas, Iowa, Utah, Colorado and Washington state.