ROANOKE, Va. – Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring met with the media Tuesday in Roanoke ahead of next month’s special session, during which the General Assembly is scheduled to review measures to curb gun violence.
The Democrat also commented on the reaction to his comments over the weekend on marijuana decriminalization and the U.S. Supreme Court’s ruling Monday on uranium mining in Virginia, among other topics.
Herring said he’s cautiously optimistic that some gun control and gun safety measures will get passed in Virginia during the special session, which is scheduled to start July 9 in Richmond.
He said he’s not in favor of what Republicans say they may propose. GOP leaders have said they may bring bills forward to make some criminal sentences tougher and to strengthen mandatory minimums.
“I don’t think that’s the right approach,” Herring said. “I think the better approach is to make sure that guns are kept out of the hands of people who are dangerous and who shouldn’t have them.”
Republicans have not indicated they would support any of the Democratic proposals, many of which failed in the GOP-controlled Legislature earlier this year.
Herring listed the following topics for bills that Democrats may propose:
-Universal background checks
-Ban on high-capacity magazines
-Assault weapons ban
-Extreme risk laws to protect people who are determined to be a threat to themselves or others
-Reinstate the one the one-gun-a-month law
Herring said that he believes the majority of Virginians support many of these measures, particularly universal background checks. He said that, because many of these bills are killed in committee, Republicans don’t vote on them on the floor, and therefore don’t have to take a public stand.
“I think it’s time that that kind of cowardice, hiding behind the committee or subcommittee system come to an end and these measures need up or down votes in the full House and the full Senate because Virginians deserve to know where their legislator stands,” he said.
He said he hopes Democrats can get some Republicans to flip.
“If they’re listening to their constituents, rather than protecting the interests of the gun manufacturers and the gun lobbyists, then they’ll embrace some of these gun safety measures for a safer community,” Herring said.
Herring commented Tuesday on the criticism of his push to decriminalize marijuana.
He brought the conversation forward over the weekend by saying the current laws in Virginia lead to too many people being in jail for pot possession, and that disproportionately affects African Americans.
10 News asked him about its reporting on law enforcement groups that are not in favor of decriminalization. Those opponents said they’re worried about marijuana use among teens and impaired driving, among other issues.
Herring said he hopes people will keep an open mind.
“Certainly, there are legitimate concerns that we want to be able to address and we want to make sure that prosecutors and law enforcement have a seat at the table to bring those concerns forward, but I think there are ways that we can address them, so we’re going to want to think about how we can limit access by minors and, if adults choose to do it, how they can do it in a responsible way,” he said.
Herring said Tuesday that the recent ruling on uranium mining in Southside was a big win for the health and safety of the environment.
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that Virginia can keep its ban on uranium mining. Herring said he decided to fight the challenge after listening to Pittsylvania County residents.
“I’ve heard them loud and clear,” he said. “They don’t want uranium mining there. It would be incompatible with the efforts they’ve made and progress they’ve made to diversify their economy, and there are just too many risks associated with it. So, this was well within the rights of Virginia to decide for itself.”
Residents who are in favor of the mining say it would help Southside’s economy. The site in question is the largest known uranium deposit in the nation, and its owners have said it contains enough uranium to power all of the country's nuclear reactors continuously for two years.