Virginia crime commission begins hearing on gun violence

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — As the Virginia State Crime Commission began a hearing Monday on proposals to stem gun violence, Gov. Ralph Northam urged lawmakers to pass "commonsense" measures as he took a swipe at Republican leaders who called for further study.

Northam sent a letter to the commission as a two-day hearing got underway to review legislation introduced following a May 31 mass shooting that killed 12 people in Virginia Beach. Authorities have said that DeWayne Craddock, a city employee, fatally shot 12 people inside a municipal building before being shot and killed by police.

The Democratic governor convened a special legislative session in July to consider universal background checks, a red flag law and other gun safety proposals. The Republican-controlled Legislature quickly adjourned the session and referred the legislation to the crime commission.

In his letter, Northam said the proposals "do not need further study." Northam said some of the proposals were initially recommended after a gunman killed 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007.

"The assertion that more study is needed __ 12 years and over 70 mass shootings after Virginia Tech __ is inaccurate and inexcusable," Northam wrote.

But state Sen. Mark Obenshain, the Republican chairman of the commission, criticized what he called a "politically driven agenda." He said the crime commission is well-equipped to do a thoughtful evaluation of legislative proposals and to make recommendations before the General Assembly is set to reconvene in November.

"What the governor advanced was a legislative package that he admits would have had no impact whatsoever in preventing the shootings in Virginia Beach, and I'm disappointed that a governor would take a tragedy like what happened in Virginia Beach and try to capitalize upon that to advance a politically driven agenda rather than to ... actually do something to keep Virginians safer," Obenshain said during a break in the hearing.

The commission heard more than a half dozen presentations on gun violence from representatives of the Virginia State Police, Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, U.S. Secret Service and U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Explosives.

On Tuesday, the panel is scheduled to hear from the public and interest groups, and to review gun bills introduced during the special legislative session.