McAuliffe targets gun violence with executive order
The Democratic governor also created a task force charged with making sure the commonwealth's gun laws – which McAuliffe criticized as too weak – are strictly enforced.
“This executive order will help our Commonwealth better enforce Virginia laws designed to keep guns away from people who would use them for harm,” McAuliffe stated.
The new Joint Task Force to Prosecute Gun Crimes "will take tangible steps to bring more successful prosecutions of gun crimes, and the other steps outlined in the order will aid in our efforts to keep families safe from gun violence," the governor said.
The gesture comes in the wake of mass shootings at the Umpqua Community College in Roseburg, Oregon, and the on-air killing of two television journalists in Roanoke, Virginia, by a former co-worker.
In 2007, Seung-Hui Cho shot and killed 32 people on the Virginia Tech campus in Blacksburg. It was one of the worst mass shootings in the country's history.
McAuliffe's order banning the open carrying of firearms in executive branch buildings takes effect immediately, with exceptions for law enforcement, authorized security guards and military personnel authorized to carry firearms as part of their duties.
Stating that "gun crimes are not acts of God," McAuliffe criticized "certain politicians and lobbyists" for saying gun violence was unavoidable.
Leading the governor's new task force on gun violence are Secretary of Public Safety Brian Moran and Attorney General Mark Herring.
Under Virginia law, prosecuting gun crimes is outside the attorney general's purview. McAuliffe's executive order "ask[s] the attorney general to coordinate these prosecutorial efforts and bring such cases as he may deem most appropriate in order to protect the citizens of the Commonwealth from illegal firearms sales."
House Majority Leader Kirk Cox was skeptical of the governor's actions.
“It is curious that the Governor and Attorney General are putting such special emphasis on enforcing Virginia’s gun laws when they have been so eager to ignore other laws in the past," said in a joint news release from leaders in the House of Delegates.
House Speaker William J. Howell said in the same release that Republicans would monitor the task force's work, but also promised Republicans would be looking for their own solutions.
"The House of Delegates will continue to focus on investing in mental and behavioral health care improvements that will have a meaningful impact on individual lives and our communities as a whole,” Howell said.
Virginia guns rights advocate Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, dismissed McAuliffe's signing event as politically motivated.
"McAuliffe wants to be vice president of the United States," Van Cleave told AMI Newswire. "Most of his executive orders are already law or are already being done."
McAuliffe's Common Good VA PAC sent out an appeal immediately after Thursday's news conference urging people to sign a petition to say "thank you Governor McAuliffe for acting on guns and telling him you have his back."
It is not the first time McAuliffe's PAC has pushed the gun issue for support.
In early October, Common Good PAC sent an email to supporters signed by Andy Parker, father of slain Roanoke TV journalist Alison Parker, calling for "commonsense gun control legislation," and asking recipients to "commit to vote to end senseless gun violence."
Andy Parker was among those standing beside McAuliffe as he signed the executive order.