Jason Nixon came to Richmond Tuesday for the first time hoping to speak about a gun bill. But he got to lecture some lawmakers, too.
“You guys have lost sight about politics,” he told a group of delegates Tuesday. “It’s not about my side is better than yours."
It’s the first time he’s addressed lawmakers in the state Capitol after his wife, Kate Nixon, was murdered along with 11 other people when a gunman opened fire at a Virginia Beach government building in May.
After the shooting, many state Democrats ran successfully on a campaign of preventing gun violence. They gained the majority in the House and Senate in November’s election, vowing to enact stricter gun measures like universal background checks and allowing localities to regulate firearms, which many Republicans have said they oppose.
Nixon’s been outspoken about state lawmakers before, when -- while still under a Republican majority -- the General Assembly ended a special session on gun control after 90 minutes without taking up any bills. A lawyer for Nixon said at the time that some lawmakers used his late wife for political opportunities, while others used Kate’s name when referencing how she considered bringing a gun to work for protection.
He also criticized state Senate candidates in Virginia Beach in October after a Democrat launched a television ad featuring an employee who was in the Municipal Center the day of the shooting.
On Tuesday, Nixon lectured lawmakers while arguing for a bill that would make it easier for people to sue the state or the locality if someone was injured in a gun-free zone created by the government. The bill ultimately died on a 6-2 vote.
“Democrats have control, so let’s see what they can do with it,” Nixon said. "Let’s compromise, let’s work together. In order to run a self-sufficient government, you have to compromise.”
Protection from the government to be sued without consent is called “sovereign immunity,” and as Nixon pointed out, it’s been around since the time of British rule, under a Latin concept that translates to “The King can do no harm.”
“Are we that archaic?” Jason asked delegates during a House public safety subcommittee meeting. “Why haven’t we amended this? I’m saying amend the law to where it specifically caters toward gun violence if you’re telling my wife she has to go into a gun-free zone under state or city policy, and you can’t protect her, and you bar her the right of protecting herself. Is that fair?”
Six months after the mass shooting, Nixon and three other victims’ families filed wrongful death claims, legally required notices that give them the right to sue the city by May 31, 2021. But Nixon said six months wasn’t enough time.
“How can you tell somebody you only have six months to file a letter of intent and seek legal recourse and preserve that right?” he said. “That’s not fair.”
Del. John McGuire, R-Goochland, sponsored the bill to weaken sovereign immunity protections and said it should’ve been called the “Put Your Money Where Your Mouth is” Act.
“If politicians are so convinced gun-free zones work, and they protect the public, then why is there a need for this law?” he said, referring to sovereign immunity.
Del. Jeff Bourne, D-Richmond, said sovereign immunity is complicated, and amending it would take longer than a 60-day session.
"It’s just a conversation that takes years to really have so we get to the right place,” he said after the meeting.
Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, suggested a compromise on another bill that would allow localities to regulate guns in government buildings, public parks and during publicly permitted events like farmers’ markets. A version of that bill that passed in the Senate gives localities the option to provide security measures, like metal detectors or police officers, if they choose to ban guns.
All the other bills on the subcommittee’s docket Tuesday were filed by Republicans, including one to repeal a law that bans guns in churches and one that would increase mandatory minimum sentences for using a gun in the commission of a felony. All the bills were killed, most on a party-line vote.
The subcommittee meeting was held the day after thousands of people -- many of them armed -- took to the streets of Richmond to protest Democrats’ proposed gun control bills.
Nixon said he’ll be back in Richmond on Jan. 28 with other victims’ families to speak about a proposal to form an independent commission to investigate the mass shooting.