Va. gov. reels from mass shooting after falling short on gun reforms

Ralph Northam visited with victims Saturday

By Veronica Stracqualursi, CNN
Alex Edelman/Getty Images

Virginia Governor Ralph Northam speaks with reporters at a news conference at the Governor's mansion Feb. 2 in Richmond, Virginia.

Gov. Ralph Northam told Virginians Saturday that the latest shooting tragedy 'will not define' the community after a gunman opened fire at a Virginia Beach city building, leaving 12 dead.

Northam visited with victims Saturday at the Sentara Virginia Beach General Hospital.

"They are doing well, you know, they are strong people and have a tremendous faith in God," Northam told CNN. "So they are coming along nicely. And we just offer our thoughts, our prayers, our support, for these families."

The Democratic governor has long made gun control legislation a priority, supporting measures to tighten access to firearms in the state. Yet, he and Democrats have been unable to pass legislation in a Republican-controlled state congress.

When he ran for governor in 2017, Northam called for universal background checks, touted his "F" rating from the National Rifle Association, and, according to the Washington Post, also joined a protest against the NRA at its headquarters in Virginia.

Back in January, with Democratic gains in the General Assembly in the 2018 election, Northam introduced a slate of gun control bills ahead of the start of the year's legislative session.

The bills included imposing universal background checks, a ban on assault firearms and an "extreme risk protective order" temporarily restricting an individual's access to firearms if a court finds they pose a "substantial danger to themselves or others," among other proposals.

"We lose too many Virginians each year to senseless gun violence, and it is time we take meaningful steps to protect the health and safety of our citizens," Northam said at the time. "I look forward to opening a dialogue with the General Assembly on this legislative package of reasonable gun violence reforms, which appropriately balances Second Amendment Rights with public safety."

But Republicans, who hold a slim majority in the General Assembly, in two of Virginia's Senate and House of Delegates' committees voted down some of the bills and effectively blocked the other measures from moving forward. Opponents of the legislation had argued that the bills infringed on Virginians' Second Amendment rights.

The 2019 legislative session ended in February without success for gun-control legislation backed by Northam and Democratic state lawmakers.

Exit polls showed that gun policy was the second most important issue, behind health care, for voters in the 2017 Virginia gubernatorial election.

This year all the seats in the Virginia General Assembly are up for election. And the issue of gun safety looms large among the candidates.

"Democrats are going to continue introducing this legislation and continue finding new policies," Kathryn Gilley, spokeswoman for the Virginia House Democratic Caucus told CNN. "Hopefully, we're going to win the majority this year, in which case, we will be able to pass some of this common sense legislation."

At a vigil held at the state capitol earlier this year for victims of gun violence, Northam said, "If we can't change people's minds, we need to change their seats," according to CNN affiliate WTVR.

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