Va. legislature ends gun session, after bishops had hoped for ‘genuine discussions’

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Richmond, Va., Jul 11, 2019 / 03:01 pm (CNA).- The Virginia legislature adjourned Tuesday a special session called by the governor after fewer than two hours. The session was meant to consider gun control bills, and the state’s bishops had earlier expressed hope for dialogue.

The July 9 session was called by governor Ralph Northam (D); both houses of the General Assembly are controlled by Republicans with one-seat majorities.

“It is our hope that our elected officials will engage in genuine discussions about comprehensive legislation that will help save lives and make our communities safer,” Bishops Michael Burbidge of Arlington and Barry Knestout of Richmond had said in a July 8 statement ahead of the special session.

“We urge our state leaders to engage in civil and meaningful dialogue, seeking to combat all violence in our communities,” they added, while also recognizing “that many factors contribute to the violence in our society, which will not be solved by a single piece of legislation.”

Northam had called the special session in light of the May 31 killings in Virginia Beach, in which a gunman shot to death 12 people. The gunman, DeWayne Craddock, died in a shootout with police.

According to the AP, Northam had proposed eight gun control measures for the special session.

Senate majority leader Tommy Norment had proposed a bill July 8 to ban broadly guns in government buildings in the state. Norment’s fellow Republicans strongly objected to the bill, and it was withdrawn.

During the brief session, legislators did task a bipartisan crime commission with studying policy proposals that might have prevented the Virginia Beach killings.

In November, all 140 seats in both houses of the General Assembly are up for re-election, and gun control is expected to be an important topic of campaigning.

In their statement ahead of the special session, the bishops noted that they continue to keep in prayer Craddock’s 12 victims, and that “we also continue to pray for their families, those injured, their co-workers and those who provide assistance within the community.”

“We must also discern what can be done to make our communities safer and address the root causes of violence and terror,” they added.

“Respect and reverence for human life – all life, at every stage of development and in all circumstances – require us to protect it. The culture of violence pervading our society must be challenged.”

The bishops said that the Virginia Catholic Conference has advocated “for reasonable safety regulations for firearms and proper screening for those seeking to acquire a firearm.”

They added that “firearms often serve the legitimate purpose of self-defense and the defense of loved ones,” and that “mental health has been a factor in past shootings and more resources should be invested in early intervention for those at risk of committing a violent act due to mental illness.”

“We will continue to be advocates for proposals that promote a comprehensive approach to combating increasing occurrences of violence, keeping respect for all life at the forefront and ensuring the fundamental liberties of all Americans are protected,” the bishops stated.

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