Governor calls for special legislative session on gun control in wake of Virginia Beach massacre

A gunman killed 12 people at a municipal building in Virginia Beach on Friday.

Saying it's time for "votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers," Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam called for an emergency special session of the state legislature on Tuesday to take action on gun control in the wake of a mass shooting at a government building in Virginia Beach that left 12 people dead.

"Once more hearts are broken, lives are shattered and families are crushed," Northam, flanked by government leaders, said during a speech in Richmond, the state's capital.

"Once more a community is in shock and pain and grief. And once more we will hear folks offer their thoughts and prayers," he said. "We must do more than our thoughts and prayers. We must give Virginians action."

The governor exercised his authorities under the state constitution to call the legislature into special session to tackle the issues, saying the state cannot afford to put off the challenge of protecting its citizens from gun violence.

"There are already those who say it's too soon after the tragedy to talk about responses. I would say to those people: 'when is the right time?'"

"I want this to be the last time," said Northam, a Democrat elected governor in 2018.

Northam, a former U.S. Army doctor, said that a lot of the proposals he has in mind were recommended after a gunman killed 33 people at Virginia Tech University in April of 2007.

The recommendations he will make now, he said, will include banning assault weapons and ammunition magazines that can hold 10 rounds or more, requiring universal background checks and limiting purchases to one gun a month.

He said he would also like to see laws passed requiring people to report stolen guns within 24 hours, allowing law enforcement to seek court orders to keep guns away from people who are a clear danger to themselves and others; and permitting local governments to regulate guns in their own communities.

"None of these ideas are radical, none of them violate the Second Amendment," Northam said.

The National Rifle Association said the governor is "following the gun control playbook by exploiting a tragedy to push his failed political agenda."

"The fact is none of the governor's gun control proposals would have prevented the horrible tragedy at Virginia Beach," Jennifer Baker, director of public affairs for the NRA Institute of Legislative Action, said in a statement. "If Gov. Northam is genuinely interested in pursuing policies that will save lives, he should focus on prosecuting violent criminals and fixing our broken mental health system, instead of blaming Virginia's law-abiding gun owners for the act of a deranged murderer."

Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun-rights organization, called the governor's demands for a special session “political theater” designed to deflect attention from "his recent foibles" over photos that appeared on his 1984 medical school yearbook page of an individual wearing blackface and another dress in a Ku Klux Klan hood and robe.

Northam has denied the photos are of him and says he does not know how they ended up published on his yearbook page.

Kris Brown, president of the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, praised the governor's decision to call for a special session.

"Time and time again, members of the Virginia legislature have chosen to put profits over people, siding with the corporate gun lobby over keeping people safe from gun violence. Now, they have an opportunity to make this right," Brown said in a statement. "Gov. Northam is absolutely correct when he says that gun violence in Virginia is an emergency, and now is the time for elected officials from both parties to come together and take action, not sides. And if they choose to reject this chance, Virginia voters will remember and take action of their own come November.”

Northam said that following the Virginia Tech shooting, none of the gun-control measures proposed were passed by the Republican-controlled state General Assembly.

"In fact, some failed with just four votes against them in subcommittees," Northam said.

Northam said he would also like to see a ban on gun suppressors -- like the one legally purchased and used by the gunman in the Virginia Beach massacre.

On Friday afternoon, the suspect -- identified by authorities as city public utilities engineer DeWayne Craddock, 40 -- allegedly went on a shooting rampage in Building 2 of the Municipal Center in Virginia Beach.

Wielding a pair of .45-caliber pistols, both legally purchased by the suspect, and a security pass to gain access to inner offices and conference rooms, Craddock gunned down 11 city workers and a private contractor before police killed him in a gunfight.

Just hours before the rampage, Craddock resigned from his job in an email, citing "personal reasons" that he did not elaborate on.

"This weekend's tragedy must instill in us a new urgency to act," Northam said. "Virginians deserve leadership and they will be watching. The nation will be watching."