November’s Election Will Determine What Virginia Does – or Doesn’t Do – About Guns

The bipartisan Virginia Crime Commission is almost ready to analyze and recommend new gun legislation that was proposed in the late, unlamented special General Assembly session.

On the surface, it looks like there’s a lot for the committee to consider at its two public meetings, scheduled for Aug. 19 and 20.

What will determine the commission’s work isn’t the quality of the presentations on those two days or the amount of public comment on proposed legislation. It’s the outcome of the Nov. 5 election.

Perhaps that’s for the best, because most of the bills on the commission’s docket are brochure bills — legislation that looks great in campaign materials but has no chance of being enacted.

For example, the commission is very unlikely to recommend a bill from Del. Mark L. Cole (R-Spotsylvania) incorporating the Supreme Court’s Heller decision (making the Second Amendment an individual right) into the Virginia Code.

Even for a generally gun-friendly GOP, this is a step too far, particularly when the votes to override a gubernatorial veto just aren’t there.

Similarly, the commission is not likely to agree to recommend a bill from Sen. Adam P. Ebbin (D-Alexandria) prohibiting the sale and possession of assault-style weapons in Virginia. So long as the GOP is in control of even one legislative chamber, no bill that can easily be described as “gun-grabbing” will see the light of day.

One measure that probably has a good chance of getting the commission’s backing: A bill from Del. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) establishing new programs intended to “deter shootings through early intervention.”

It doesn’t hurt the bill’s chances that Gilbert, a commission member, is also House majority leader.

The commission could also heed Gov. Ralph Northam’s (D) call to take up the package of gun bills he’s been pushing since late last year.

After the mass shootings in Dayton and El Paso, Northam noted that legislators could “return to the special session any time” and “immediately … pass the commonsense background checks and extreme risk protective orders” supported by President Trump.

Fair enough. But would either of these options address, never mind prevent, mass shootings? No. As the Roanoke Times editorial board wrote, “not a single one of [these proposals] would have prevented the slaughter at the Virginia Beach municipal building, or … [the] horrors in El Paso and Dayton.”

That doesn’t mean the bills — either Gilbert’s or Northam’s batch — shouldn’t be the basis of actual debate in the next General Assembly.

They must be. And that also means a full debate — no killing bills in subcommittee, Republicans.

The bigger question is what political landscape will exist after the election.

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