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Gov. Ralph Northam Calls On Lawmakers To Take Action After Virginia Beach Shooting


It is wrong; it is outrageous; it is unforgivable to turn civic spaces into battlefields. Those were the words of Ralph Northam, governor of Virginia, after the shooting that killed 12 people in Virginia Beach this past weekend. Now the governor says he will convene a special session of the state legislature in order to pass public safety laws, and that is already shaping up to be an uphill battle.

To ask him how he plans to get it done, we've called Governor Northam. He joins us now from Richmond. Governor, welcome.

RALPH NORTHAM: Thank you, Mary Louise. It's great to be on your show.

KELLY: It's good to have you with us. And I do want to offer my condolences to you and, of course, to everyone in Virginia Beach although you have been direct in stating you are not asking for thoughts and prayers this time. You're asking for votes and laws. Lay out for me just briefly what it is that you are calling for.

NORTHAM: Well, thank you, Mary Louise. And this has been a - just a terrific - a horrific tragedy in Virginia Beach in the Commonwealth of Virginia. As you know, 12 precious lives were lost. We have four individuals that are fighting for their lives as we speak. And so I called our legislature back into a special session to really take up commonsense gun legislation. We will propose universal background checks, which over 90 percent of Virginians are in favor of. I have proposed an assault weapons ban to include these suppressors or what are called silencers, extended clips and also bump stocks.

We have a proposal for an extreme risk protection order to keep guns out of the hands that shouldn't - they shouldn't be in. One gun a month - we used to have that in Virginia. It worked quite well. Now individuals can buy as many handguns as they want. A lot of them end up in other states, to include New York. As a pediatrician, the child access prevention is very important to me. I have taken care of children, unfortunately, who have been a tragic loss of people leaving their firearms loaded and on bedside tables, et cetera. So...

KELLY: Et cetera - so a whole slate of proposals that you are calling for. When I described this as an uphill battle for you, I can boil it down to this. Republicans control the statehouse in Virginia, and they have already said they're not going to back these proposals. So how do you intend to navigate around that?

NORTHAM: Well I've asked the Republican leadership to allow these pieces of legislation to get to the floor for a vote. What has happened in the past, Mary Louise, is that they're heard in these early-morning subcommittees where not a lot of people are paying attention. They're defeated. But this special session...

KELLY: But have you given - have you gotten any indication that in a full session in the afternoon at 4 o'clock - that Republicans are going to sign on to any of this?

NORTHAM: Well, I think if they are heard, if given a fair hearing and, I think, if people in Virginia speak with their legislators and they're allowed to vote, then I'm confident that if it gets to the floor, that we'll have enough votes to pass these.

These are commonsense pieces of legislation. One that I didn't mention was giving the localities the authority to, you know, decide whether guns should be in municipal buildings. These are things that Virginians are in favor of. And you know, as I've said all along, it is time to stop talking. We certainly appreciate the thoughts and prayers, but I need votes and laws in the Commonwealth of Virginia. And that's what Virginians are asking for.

KELLY: Let me let you respond to one of the specific objections that Republicans are raising. This is a piece of tape I'm going to want to play from Republican State Senator Bill DeSteph. He represents Virginia Beach. He told our station WCEV this.


BILL DESTEPH: No gun control laws would've stopped what happened Friday in my district.

KELLY: That is an argument, Governor, that Republicans are making. You're talking about banning assault-style weapons and bump stocks and silencers, none of which would've prevented what happened on Friday sadly.

NORTHAM: Well, this assailant had used a silencer. We know that. This assailant was in a municipal building. One of our proposals will keep that from happening. But let me talk to you about the bigger picture in Virginia. We lost over a thousand Virginians last year to gun-related accidents. That's more than we lose on our highways and roads. And so this is an emergency in Virginia. And these commonsense gun laws will help prevent these. And again, Virginians are sick and tired of these tragedies. They are becoming all too common. And they're asking for action.

KELLY: You raised the bigger picture. And I do want to situate our conversation in the middle of the bigger picture. You were at the center of a huge controversy earlier this year involving blackface and a racist photo on your med school yearbook page. There were calls for you to resign, including many calls from within your own party. That is a different conversation for a different day, Governor. But I do wonder does fallout from that controversy affect your ability now to get other elected officials onboard with your agenda - in this case, with your gun control agenda?

NORTHAM: Well, let me get you up to speed on what we've been able to accomplish in Virginia over the last few months. Number one...

KELLY: But if I just - in the brief time we have left, is the fallout from that scandal going to impact your ability to drive this legislation through?

NORTHAM: We continue to lead the Commonwealth of Virginia. And again, I could list out a number of accomplishments over the last couple of months. I know time is of the essence here. But you know, I have led the Commonwealth of Virginia for two years. I have vision. I have been an advocate in the two, fighting for commonsense gun laws. And so we'll be able to move forward with this.

KELLY: But respectfully, Sir, the Virginia Democratic Party, the Virginia Black Caucus, the Congressional Black Caucus - both sides of the aisle calling for your resignation just a few months ago. Does that leave scar tissue that makes it harder to work together now?

NORTHAM: Well, I think if people look at the news conference that we had yesterday, a number of Democrats - the lieutenant governor, the attorney general, delegates, senators - were standing with me to make this announcement. We're focused on saving lives in Virginia. We're moving forward. And so we're going to get some good things done in the Commonwealth.

KELLY: Governor, thank you so much for your time.

NORTHAM: Thanks, Mary Louise.

KELLY: That's Virginia Governor Ralph Northam. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: June 12, 2019 at 12:00 AM EDT
A previous Web introduction to this story incorrectly said Gov. Ralph Northam spoke with Ari Shapiro. Northam spoke with Mary Louise Kelly.