RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — Senate Majority Leader Tommy Norment abruptly withdrew the surprise legislation he introduced Monday to broadly ban guns in any government building, after it prompted a mutiny in the GOP caucus, with Sen. Bill Stanley resigning as majority whip shortly before lawmakers were to be gaveled into session. Stanley told The Associated Press that he was quitting to protest the move by Norment, who is married to a lobbyist for the city of Virginia Beach. His bill caught his fellow Republicans off guard and they immediately pushed back, saying it’s an infringement on the rights of law-abiding citizens to prevent them from carrying guns into government buildings. “Sometimes you just gotta stand for principle, so I resigned,” Stanley said. But his departure didn’t last long as GOP leaders sought to restore unity: Stanley said that during a Senate caucus meeting before the session started, Norment apologized for the bill and asked Stanley to reconsider. Norment made a motion to the caucus to reelect Stanley as whip, which they did. Stanley said he was the sole vote against.
Outside the Capitol building, advocates for and against gun control rallied just ahead of the session. Gun-control supporters began their demonstration on Capitol Square by reading out the names of the state’s recent gun violence victims, including those in Virginia Beach. Northam then led them in the “Enough is Enough!” chant that has become a refrain against gun violence at rallies nationwide in the wake of repeated mass shootings. Others carried signs decrying the killings of children, and shouted “You vote today, we vote in November.” “Hopefully we’ll be heard and the Virginia Legislature will take action to enact sensible gun laws,” said Jeff Wells, 64, his voice hoarse from chanting.
Across the Capitol lawn, a smaller group of gun rights advocates rallied. They said many others were inside meeting with lawmakers and that a larger rally was planned Tuesday afternoon. Some gun-rights advocates were walking around inside the Capitol with handguns in holsters openly visible, which is permitted. Visitors to the House gallery can keep their guns, and while they’re not permitted on the Senate side, some lawmakers bring guns with them onto the floor. Jim Snyder, a 69-year-old gun owner from northern Virginia, said the Virginia Beach shooting hadn’t moved the needle on gun issues for him one bit. “I haven’t done anything wrong and they want to take guns away from me,” Snyder, vice president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. “A lot of people say, ’Well, we’ve got to find common ground,” which means, ‘We’ve got to find gun control that you’ll accept,’” he said.
Snyder speculated that Northam called the special session to divert attention from the scandal he faced over a racist yearbook photo, or to motivate Democrats hoping to retake control of the legislature in November. Some people carried poster-sized signs of the photo that appeared on Northam’s yearbook page decades ago, showing one person wearing blackface and another the robe and cap of the Ku Klux Klan.