On July 9th, the Virginia General Assembly will convene to take up several gun control measures proposed by Governor Ralph Northam.
With gun control and gun rights activists converging on the capitol, all eyes are on the Republican majorities in the House and Senate.
And New Virginia Press has compiled a list of the five Republican legislators who are most likely to flip toward backing Northam’s gun control.
After the shooting in Virginia Beach in early June, demands for increased gun control measures reached a fever pitch by Virginia Democrats.
For his part, disgraced Democrat Governor Ralph Northam was quick to call for a special session of the General Assembly, promising to bring up a host of gun control measures in July that range from banning the private sale of firearms to re-imposing a gun rationing scheme that was repealed back in 2012.
Despite Northam’s own admission that his gun control measures would not have prevented the Virginia Beach shooting, support for Northam’s legislative package remains high among Democrats in the General Assembly who hope to galvanize support around the measures heading into the November elections.
With Democrats seeking to retake control of the Virginia General Assembly and hold control of both chambers of the legislature and the Governor’s mansion for the first time since 1992, the upcoming special session could play a critical role in determining control of both chambers of the legislature.
The stakes are just as high for Republicans who need the support of gun rights activists in order to maintain their slim majorities in the legislature.
Some Republicans, however, may think it will be politically convenient to side with Northam and the Democrats in the upcoming special session, and New Virginia Press has compiled a list of the top five Republicans most likely to back gun control legislation.
#1 – Senator Emmett Hanger (R-Mount Solon)
Consistently dubbed “the most liberal Republican in the Senate” by friends and foes alike, Senator Hanger has developed a reputation for being the most likely Republican to side with Democrats on any given issue, and has done so on firearms bills in the past.
Most notably, Hanger was an early Republican supporter for Governor Northam’s plan to expand Obamacare in Virginia in 2018. Hanger’s consistent record of voting with Democrat priorities earned him their support during his 2015 Republican Primary election.
Democrats also worked extensively to support Hanger in this year’s Republican Primary against Tina Freitas, who earned the endorsement of Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) due to Hanger’s abysmal 57% rating by the gun rights group. Hanger could now be looking to repay Democrats for their support in re-electing him to another term in office.
#2 – Senator Jill Vogel (R-Upperville)
Senator Jill Vogel is perhaps the most likely Republican behind Senator Hanger to support Governor Northam’s gun control package next month.
Having lost a race for Lt. Governor to Justin Fairfax in 2017, Vogel’s political ambitions took a hit. The Upperville Senator could be willing to strike a deal with Democrats in order to seek higher office in the future.
If so, this wouldn’t be the first time that Vogel endorsed gun control measures as well.
Shortly after the Newtown Shooting in 2012, Senator Vogel endorsed a ban on “assault rifles,” telling the Northern Virginia Daily, “I am concerned about certain assault weapons being readily available, and I think that if you have something that happened in a public school that we just saw happen, it is a great indication of something being terribly broken.”
“We are not doing ourselves any service … There is a solution and we can be a little more open-minded and consider that we have to make some changes,” Vogel added.
Vogel’s interview with the Northern Virginia Daily ended with the Republican Senator declaring, “There are certain firearms that don’t need to be in the hands of regular citizens.”
Senator Vogel will get a chance to ban those “certain firearms” in just under two weeks as Governor Northam’s gun control proposals are brought before the Virginia Senate.
#3 – Delegate Chris Peace (R-Mechanicsville)
Delegate Chris Peace was the first casualty of a conservative backlash in 2019 after he lost the Republican nomination in his district to Hanover County Supervisor Scott Wyatt for his vote in pushing through Governor Northam’s Obamacare Expansion last year.
Since then, Peace has removed himself from Republican politics, liking Facebook posts and comments telling voters in his district to write in his name on the November ballot, or even vote for the Democratic nominee who will face off against Wyatt in November.
Peace also earned the ire of conservative activists for meeting with “Moms Demand,” the gun control group currently being supported by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg. Moms Demand has emerged as a strong supporter of Northam’s gun control package, and the group’s financial backer has pledged to spend millions of dollars in this year’s legislative elections.
Having already lost re-nomination, Peace is now a lame duck who is set to leave office next January. This upcoming session will mark the last time he will sit in the House of Delegates and vote on legislation.
Gun rights activists fear that, much like former Arizona Republican Senator Jeff Flake, who increasingly voted with the Democrats in his last year in office once it became clear that he would not be returning to the U.S. Senate, Peace could vote for Northam’s gun control proposals knowing he has nothing to lose.
#4 – Delegate Bob Thomas (R-Fredericksburg)
Much like Chris Peace, Bob Thomas is likewise a lame duck Republican who lost re-nomination in the June primary in his district for his past votes with Democrats.
While Thomas was largely defeated for re-election due to his vote to expand Obamacare in Virginia almost immediately after promising his constituents he would not do so, there is reason to believe he may do the same thing on gun control next month.
For one thing, Thomas cannot pay any price for voting with the Democrats, as he’s already lost re-election and is set to leave office next January.
Furthermore, Thomas earned a 0% rating from VCDL in 2018.
Thomas’ political career may not be completely over, however. The lame duck Republican may be willing to strike a deal on gun control in the hopes that establishing a liberal voting record in his swing district could help him mount a political comeback in the future.
#5 – Senator Tommy Norment (R-Williamsburg)
Senator Norment serves as the most powerful Republican in the Virginia Senate, and among the most powerful elected officials in the entire Commonwealth.
With control of the Virginia Senate coming down to just a handful of swing districts this year, Norment may be inclined to believe that striking a deal with Governor Northam now could help increase his chances of remaining Majority Leader come next January.
However, Norment also risks alienating gun rights activists whose support he and the entire Republican Senate Caucus will need in order to maintain control of the chamber.
Even so, Norment has already signaled his willingness to compromise with the Democrat Governor.
“An extended magazine is optical, but does it change the outcome, I’m not sure, but it’s something the citizens like this would say at least it’s an incremental effort to do something,” Norment said after he announced his intention to call the legislature into session. “At least that is an issue that it’s very easy to resolve.”
Despite publicly admitting that “Nothing would have helped us in Virginia Beach,” Norment has also stated that the General Assembly will still act to pass some form of gun control legislation next month, according to the Virginia Gazette.
His support for any gun control measures will be crucial for Democrats who hope to pass any legislation through the chamber this summer.