Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) called an emergency session of the state’s legislature on Tuesday in order to consider new gun control laws in the wake of the massacre at a Virginia Beach municipal building committed by a gunman last week. But the GOP leader of the state legislature immediately called the governor’s decision “hasty” and threatened to block new gun restrictions.

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Virginia has a history of mass shootings, with 32 people dying at the hands of a shooter at Virginia Tech in 2007. The governor at that time, Tim Kaine, also attempted to pass a slate of gun control bills through the Virginia state legislature but was unsuccessful. That was 12 years ago, however, and attitudes towards gun control have changed. As shooting after shooting takes place across the country, in schools, in churches, in bars, and in any place where people try to live their lives, the country has seen a significant turnaround in views towards guns. While both houses of the Virginia state legislature are still controlled by the Republicans, many hope that at least some aspects of Northam’s gun control package will be passed.


If the GOP-held chambers don’t accept these bills, then many believe it will cause significant political damage to the party’s hold on the state. In the 2017 elections, Democrats made vast gains in the state lawmaking body and were barely prevented from taking control of the body altogether. With every single legislative seat up for election this year, political strategists believe that if Republicans don’t vote for gun control, the increasingly liberal constituency will show their displeasure at the polls. While a slim majority of Virginians want stricter gun regulations, 91% of the populace supports implementing universal background checks.

Some Republicans in the state legislature have tried to detract from the intentions of Northam, claiming that his attempt to act as a knight in shining armor and protect the state from guns is partially meant to erase the political damage done by previous accusations of Northam’s racist early years. In February, Northam came under heavy fire for a series of photos that showed him appearing in blackface in college. Instead of submitting to the calls for his resignation, Northam stated that he would dedicate himself to fixing inequality in the state.

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