Virginia lawmakers are now looking ahead to the November election and gun rights will likely remain a key topic.
Democratic Delegate Chris Hurst, who represents parts of the New River Valley, told 10 News on Wednesday that he’s disappointed that no bills were passed in the special session meant to address gun violence, which Republicans ended Tuesday.
After many people accused Democrats of calling for the special session purely to stage political theater or a distraction, he’s now critical of Republicans for taking that kind of action.
“I don’t see it as anything other than a political stunt on their part, frankly,” Hurst said.
Republicans had bills of their own on workplace violence, security, criminal sentences and more. Hurst said Democrats wanted to keep a narrow focus during the session but he would have been happy to branch out and talk about those issues.
“If we wanted to open it up to public safety and all things mental health that’s great. Let’s actually have that be a special session,” he said.
He liked many of the Republican bills.
“A lot of them had great merit to them. On a lot of them, I’ve already started reaching out those saying ‘I would like to work with you on these,’” he said.
Hurst has held many town halls on gun topics and he thinks one big issue preventing progress is distrust between the two sides. He said one way to break through distrust is simple -- talking.
“There will still be people like me who want to have that concerted conversation,” he said. “I still think that there can be reasonable regulations on access to firearms in order to make sure that we can live freely in this society and also free to be able to bear arms.”
Republicans said Tuesday that they want to refer all bills related to gun violence to the State Crime Commission because it's best positioned to take a critical look at the best proposals. The body is scheduled to have its recommendations ready in November.
Sen. Steve Newman, R, Lynchburg, cited then-governor and Democrat Tim Kaine's similar decision in 2007 after the mass shooting at Virginia Tech.
Hurst has stayed mostly quiet publicly on gun issues since becoming a lawmaker. He said he was asked about a dozen times in the past to talk about gun violence on the floor, and declined, but Tuesday he spoke in front of the House of Delegates about his difficulties the last four years, dealing with the deaths of journalists Adam Ward and Alison Parker, his girlfriend.
He said this week was the moment to come forward, with the Virginia Beach mass shooting in mind.
“That ‘what if’ has tormented me from the day I personally became affected by gun violence,” Hurst said Tuesday in the chamber. “Maybe I should have been there. What if somebody else had been there? How could I let this happen to her?”
He emphasized that family and friends who suffer after a loss are collateral damage in gun violence.
“Quite frankly a moral authority that anyone who’s affected by gun violence, I think, has a right to honor their loved one with action,” Hurst told 10 News on Wednesday.
GUN RIGHTS SUPPORTERS PLEASED
Many gun rights supporters were at the capitol on Tuesday demonstrating and meeting with lawmakers. 10 News spoke to many of them, some who were local and others who were from around Virginia.
They largely believe that Virginia can’t write laws for every action, already has enough gun laws on the books and needs to enforce the current laws better.
“I think our legislature did the right thing. I think what the governor was trying to do was play off of everybody’s emotions and make political hay out of that sad situation,” NRA member and Roanoke County resident Al Milton said.
All General Assembly seats will be on the ballot for the Nov. 5 election.