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Youngkin urges bipartisan action after shootings, sidestepping calls for gun control

Gov. Glenn Youngkin speaks at podium while others stand behind them
Gov. Glenn Youngkin addresses the media during a Tuesday press conference in Richmond. During his talk, the governor touched on the Second Amendment and schools, among other topics. (Ben Paviour/VPM News)

Gov. Glenn Youngkin said on Tuesday that his administration is working to address recent shootings with immediate, bipartisan action — but did not respond to calls for stricter gun control laws. 

Addressing reporters at a press conference in Richmond, Youngkin didn't directly respond to a question from VPM News on whether he supported calls for new gun-safety measures or arming teachers. Instead, the governor said, the focus should be on bipartisan efforts like new budget funding for school security staff

“The reality is there's going to be a lot of politics around this from both ends,” Youngkin said. “We need to get to work right now on these things that we have already agreed on.”  

Youngkin was more direct in a Zoom call with Virginia College Republicans in February 2021, when he was running for the GOP nomination. 

“I will not sign any legislation that has anything to do with imposing limitations on our Second Amendment,” Youngkin said, adding that he’d consider scaling back existing gun-control laws later in his term if voters elected GOP majorities in the legislature. “By the time I’m done, we can do that.”  

Youngkin described himself during last year’s gubernatorial campaign as a proud gun owner, hunter and member of the National Rifle Association. But he declined to complete candidate questionnaires from the NRA or the Virginia Citizens Defense League, the grassroots gun-rights group that planned the 2020 gun rally in Richmond. 

Gun safety advocates have renewed their calls for Virginia lawmakers to pass a ban on semi-automatic, assault-style firearms — a proposal that failed when Democrats held both chambers of the state legislature. The divided General Assembly didn’t pass any new gun-safety laws or repeals of past legislation this year. But the dynamic could shift in 2024, if Republicans flip the Senate or if Democrats take control in the House of Delegates after the 2023 elections. 

At the Tuesday press conference, Youngkin said the shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Uvalde, Texas, caused him and First Lady Suzanne Youngkin “many sleepless nights.” Youngkin said he’d immediately convened his cabinet to address the question of “what we can do today.” 

The answer, Youngkin said, was to make sure “local school boards and local law enforcement are collaborating and communicating immediately, so that if some, God forbid, copycat criminal decided to try to replicate this, we would be prepared.” 

The governor said he was also pleased to see funding in the proposed budget to increase the number of security staff in schools. And he praised legislation passed this year requiring local school boards to cooperate with local law enforcement when conducting annual safety audits already required under Virginia law. 

Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears was more strident in a speech at an NRA event in Houston on Friday. She said she mourned the loss of life but said guns were not to blame for the shootings. Instead, she blamed fatherless homes, “emasculated” men, the lack of prayer in schools and pandemic safety protocols, according to The Washington Post. 

Democrats have panned Youngkin and Earle-Sears’ response to the tragedy.  

“Instead of solving the problem, they are embracing the gun lobby and the gun manufacturers who are complacent in these acts of gun violence,” said Del. Elizabeth Guzman (D-Prince William) in a press call last week. 

The NRA drew flak after the Virginia House Republicans' caucus reported receiving a $10,000 check from VCDL on May 25, the day after the shooting in Uvalde, Texas. A representative for the NRA said the check was an annual donation ahead of a GOP caucus retreat and was mailed May 19. 

VCDL President Philip Van Cleave responded to the tragedies with calls for allowing more people to possess guns in schools. 

“Teachers, staff, parents, visitors could all be carrying guns,” Van Cleave wrote in a VCDL email newsletter sent on Saturday. “You shoot the principal and the janitor in the hall behind you draws his gun and blows you away. You shoot a teacher, and a visiting parent takes you out.”

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