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Crime Commission’s Report on Gun Violence Makes No Recommendations

Gun rights activists rally outside the General Assembly in July
Gun rights activists rally outside the General Assembly in July (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

The Virginia  State Crime Commission investigation into gun violence in Virginia has come up inconclusive.

In a report published Tuesday, the commission said the evidence on the issue is too scattered to draw firm conclusions, and said it was up to lawmakers to make policy decisions on the issue.

The three-page report is the outcome of a July special session on gun violence convened by Gov. Ralph Northam in the wake of the mass shooting in Virginia Beach that killed 12 and wounded four.

Republicans accused Democrats of trying to ram through gun control proposals that hadn’t fully been vetted -- a job they said could be done by the bipartisan, GOP-controlled Crime Commission. GOP lawmakers unanimously voted for the plan, which called for reconvening the full legislature after the November 5 elections.

“We need to take a little bit deeper look at these issues and actually do something rather than stage-manage a vote where we’re trying to embarrass each other,” Sen. Mark Obenshain (R-Rockingham) said at the time.

In the months since then, the commission’s staff read over 4,000 public comments, reviewed studies, and compared state laws.

But in the end, they said the evidence was insufficient to make conclusions, citing limited studies on specific policies, the difficulties in isolating policies, and the mixed conclusions of research, among other factors. The commission said it was unable to undertake a systematic review of the events in Virginia Beach, citing three investigations that are still underway.

Commission staff effectively passed the baton back to lawmakers, saying only the General Assembly could come up with policy on gun violence. 

“The absence of recommendations should not be interpreted as meaning that no changes to

Virginia’s laws are necessary, but rather that any changes are policy decisions which can only be made by the General Assembly,” the report says.

Last week, Obenshain canceled a public meeting set to accompany the report’s release, citing Gov. Northam’s plans to introduce a package of gun control bills when the newly-elected Democratic majority takes control of the legislature in January.

“The results of Tuesday’s elections, coupled with recent comments from Governor Northam regarding the fate of the legislation we’ve been reviewing, makes holding a meeting impractical,” he said in a statement.

Republican Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Woodstock) gave a similar reason for calling off the reconvened special session on November 18.

That means Democrats will have to wait until January to press ahead on their gun control bills. Thanks to this month’s elections, they’ll now have a majority in both chambers of the legislature.

Del. Charniele Herring (D-Alexandria), a Crime Commissioner member and newly-elected House majority leader, said some findings may have been excluded to avoid having state bureaucrats dragged into political turmoil.

“They serve at the pleasure of the chair,” she said, adding that she planned to meet with the staff to dig into some of their research. 

“I think it's clear that this has been a delay tactic all this time,” Herring said.

Ben Paviour covers courts and criminal justice for VPM News with a focus on accountability.
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