ALEXANDRIA — Gov. Terry McAuliffe said Wednesday morning’s shooting of five people, including U.S. House Majority Whip Steve Scalise, during a baseball practice in Alexandria again illustrates the need for gun control measures.
“Let me say this: I think we need to do more to protect all of our citizens. I have long advocated — and this is not what today is about — but there are too many guns on the street,” McAuliffe said at a media briefing with law enforcement not far from Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in Alexandria’s Del Ray neighborhood.
Hours earlier, Scalise, two congressional staffers and two police officers were injured when a man apparently ambushed them as they practiced for a charity baseball game.
In Alexandria, McAuliffe misspoke and said 93 million Americans are killed every day by gun violence. He later corrected himself — he meant 93 people a day.
McAuliffe has long talked about what he sees as the need for stricter background checks for gun purchases at gun shows. But he said, “That’s not for today’s discussion.”
A reporter asked why he brought it up at all.
“I talk about this every single day. This is a very serious issue,” McAuliffe said. “We just buried one of our great state troopers, a special agent, with a wife and three young children. Needless. Senseless.”
Virginia State Police Special Agent Michael T. Walter, 45, was fatally shot in the head May 26 in Richmond’s Mosby Court neighborhood when he and a Richmond officer were on patrol and approached two men in a car to talk to them. Walter was shot after a struggle, and a suspect, Travis Ball, 27, was later arrested. Further details of the incident have not yet been made public.
McAuliffe’s remarks drew swift criticism from Republicans.
“Disgusting,” Republican Party of Virginia Chairman John Whitbeck said on Twitter. “Not a day for politics.”
Del. C. Todd Gilbert, R-Shenandoah, a gun rights advocate, said the gun debate can wait.
“While I would love to respond to what I know the governor means by that, I think we can resume debate on this topic when we know more about what happened and when victims are not still lying on operating tables,” Gilbert said in a text message.
The Virginia Citizens Defense League, a gun rights group, issued a statement criticizing McAuliffe, citing his mistaken reference to 93 million Americans.
“Never missing a chance to push his gun control agenda, our illustrious leader, Governor McAuliffe, when interviewed about the shooting, predicted that the U.S. will have no one left alive in only 3½ more days due to gunfire.”
McAuliffe also called for gun control after the August 2015 shooting of Roanoke WDBJ journalists Alison Parker and Adam Ward on live TV in August 2015.
McAuliffe acknowledged that stricter gun control can’t stop all violence, noting that WDBJ shooter Vester Lee Flanagan II passed a background check and purchased a gun legally. But, McAuliffe said, if the effort saves one life, it’s worthwhile.
“The point is, are we doing everything that we possibly can to keep our communities as safe as we possibly can?” McAuliffe said in 2015.
That fall, Everytown for Gun Safety, the gun control advocacy group headed by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, pumped $2.4 million into several contests for Virginia’s state Senate as McAuliffe and the Democrats sought to flip the GOP’s 21-19 control of the chamber. But Republicans kept control.
In 2016, McAuliffe and Democrats partnered with Republicans in a rare compromise on gun control.
Pleasing gun rights advocates, the deal expanded recognition of out-of-state concealed-carry permits, reversing Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s decision in 2015 to sever ties with 25 states that had looser permitting rules than Virginia.
Pleasing gun control advocates, two other bills required domestic abusers under permanent protective orders to give up any guns in their possession within 24 hours and positioned Virginia State Police at every gun show to perform voluntary background checks requested by unlicensed sellers who lack access to the federal database used by gun dealers.
But the deal upset Everytown for Gun Safety and other gun control advocates.
Chris Hurst, a former journalist who was the boyfriend of Parker, the slain TV journalist, is now running for a House of Delegates seat as a Democrat in the 12th District against Republican Del. Joseph R. Yost.