The National Rifle Association held a town hall in Ashland on Monday evening to discuss gun issues before the July 9 special session of the General Assembly, but closed the meeting to the media and a Democratic candidate for the House of Delegates.
“This is an opportunity for our members to talk,” said Christopher Kopacki, state director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, before the town hall meeting at the Henry Clay Inn.
The purpose of the town hall was to let NRA members know about the July 9 session, hear their thoughts and allow them to voice concerns, he said.
Gov. Ralph Northam called for the special session following the massacre on May 31 at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center in which a gunman killed 12 people and wounded four. Details about a possible motive for the shooting remain unclear.
Northam wants lawmakers to consider several of what he called “common sense” gun laws, including instituting universal background checks, a ban on assault weapons to include suppressors and bump stocks, a ban on high-capacity magazines, and reinstating Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month law.
Northam’s call for a special session came with all 140 seats in the legislature up for election in November and as he continues to deal with fallout from a scandal over a racist yearbook photo.
Asked if the NRA might be willing to consider a compromise on anything Northam is proposing, Kopacki noted that no bills had been made publicly available.
“It’s important to look at the language before we actually take any official position,” he said.
Three lawmakers attended the town hall: Sen. Ryan McDougle, R-Hanover; Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico; and Del. Buddy Fowler, R-Hanover. Also there was Scott Wyatt, a member of the Hanover County Board of Supervisors who has been named the Republican nominee in 97th House District following a fight over party rules.
“I’m going to listen to what these people have to say who are my constituents,” McDougle said on his way into the town hall.
Kevin Washington, the Democrat challenging Wyatt in the fall, went into the town hall meeting with his wife, LaToya Washington, who also is his campaign manager.
“My job is to represent all the people,” Kevin Washington said. “So I want to hear what their position is.”
When Wyatt saw them, “his whole face went ghost,” LaToya Washington said.
The Washingtons said Wyatt came up to ask the Democratic candidate if he was Kevin Washington. Washington said he was, and the two men shook hands.
Shortly after, Bea González, a lobbyist for the NRA helping coordinate the town hall, asked the Washingtons to leave, the couple said. Wyatt did not immediately respond to a voicemail message seeking comment on his interaction with the Washingtons.
The NRA town hall in Ashland was one of several in Virginia, including another one on Monday evening in Virginia Beach and one scheduled for Tuesday on the Eastern Shore.
The NRA issued a statement Tuesday saying Kevin Washington was offered the chance to stay for the town hall if he paid for an NRA membership, which he declined.