Vir­ginia’s at­tor­ney gen­eral asks: Are we stand­ing up for Vir­gini­ans or stand­ing up for guns?

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - The writer, a Demo­crat, is Vir­ginia’s at­tor­ney gen­eral.

When it comes to the dan­ger­ous and of­ten deadly in­ter­sec­tion of guns and do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, the ques­tion is very sim­ple: Do you stand with the vic­tims of do­mes­tic vi­o­lence, or do you stand with do­mes­tic abusers?

Put an­other way, do you think sur­vivors of do­mes­tic abuse de­serve even the most ba­sic pro­tec­tions, or do you think their abusers should be armed?

This shouldn’t be a hard ques­tion to an­swer. It shouldn’t be a hard stand to take. But this year, Vir­ginia’s leg­is­la­ture failed to get even this sim­ple ques­tion right in a vote that is in­dica­tive of its at­ti­tude to­ward gun safety leg­is­la­tion and even the most mod­est mea­sures to pre­vent gun vi­o­lence.

In 2014, 112 men, women, boys and girls were killed by a fam­ily mem­ber or in­ti­mate part­ner in Vir­ginia. That ac­counts for nearly one-third of all homi­cides in Vir­ginia last year. Sixty-four were killed with a firearm.

In many cases, th­ese in­no­cent vic­tims were killed by known abusers who had been charged with crimes. Be­cause of lax laws and deadly loop­holes in Vir­ginia, th­ese dan­ger­ous in­di­vid­u­als got their hands on a gun and used it to take an in­no­cent life.

It doesn’t have to be this way. There are things we can and must do right now to pro­tect sur­vivors of do­mes­tic abuse and all Vir­gini­ans from gun vi­o­lence.

Last year, my team and I worked with Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D), pub­lic safety ad­vo­cates and Demo­cratic leg­is­la­tors to craft leg­is­la­tion to keep guns out of the hands of abusers. The Repub­li­can-con­trolled Sen­ate Courts Com­mit­tee de­feated the bill un­til a jus­ti­fied up­roar forced it to re­con­sider, pass it and shuf­fle it off to a dif­fer­ent com­mit­tee to be de­feated more qui­etly.

Pass­ing that bill should have been sim­ple. In the up­com­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sion, our del­e­gates and sen­a­tors will have an­other chance to get that vote right and to fi­nally show Vir­gini­ans they care about pre­vent­ing gun vi­o­lence.

In fact, bills will be in­tro­duced to en­act com­mon-sense mea­sures, sup­ported by Vir­gini­ans of all po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sions from ev­ery cor­ner of the state, to make our com­mu­ni­ties safer and to re­duce the threat of gun vi­o­lence. Th­ese com­mon-sense mea­sures would re­quire back­ground checks for all gun pur­chases and re­in­state former gover­nor L. Dou­glas Wilder’s (D) one-hand­gun-per­month law, a land­mark achieve­ment to re­duce the flood of hand­guns into our com­mu­ni­ties that was reck­lessly re­pealed in 2012.

Th­ese mea­sures won’t af­fect lawabid­ing gun own­ers in the least. They won’t bur­den any­one or in­fringe on any­one’s rights. They will sim­ply make it harder for crim­i­nals and dan­ger­ous in­di­vid­u­als to ac­cess this means to kill.

Too many Vir­gini­ans al­ready know per­son­ally the cost of con­tin­ued in­ac­tion on gun vi­o­lence.

Ev­ery Vir­ginian grieved with 32 fam­i­lies and a com­mu­nity af­ter the Vir­ginia Tech shoot­ing in 2007.

Ev­ery­one in the com­mon­wealth grieved with the Park­ers, the Wards and the Gard­ners af­ter the re­cent tragedy at Smith Moun­tain Lake.

And un­for­tu­nately, hun­dreds more fam­i­lies across the com­mon­wealth have had to find a way to carry on with­out some­one they loved. Their names may not be known to us, but ev­ery per­son lost to gun vi­o­lence was some­one’s son or daugh­ter or fa­ther or mother.

We can’t con­tinue as though there is noth­ing we can do. We can’ t pre­tend that gun vi­o­lence is some nat­u­ral phe­nom­e­non we are pow­er­less to stop.

McAuliffe and I aren’t wait­ing for the next tragedy. Un­der his Ex­ec­u­tive Or­der 50, we are mov­ing for­ward with ini­tia­tives to pro­tect Vir­gini­ans from gun vi­o­lence by strictly en­forc­ing ex­ist­ing laws against il­le­gal sales and pur­chases of guns and keep­ing guns out of sen­si­tive state build­ings where they don’t be­long. We’re go­ing to do all we can through ex­ec­u­tive ac­tion, but of course, th­ese ini­tia­tives are no sub­sti­tute for the progress we could make through leg­is­la­tion.

In the up­com­ing leg­isla­tive ses­sion, our law­mak­ers will have a chance to say whether 4,300 gun crimes in the past year and 5,200 gun deaths in the com­mon­wealth over the past five years are enough.

Vir­gini­ans are de­mand­ing it, and it’s time our voices are heard.


Pamela Cook of Roanoke de­liv­ers flow­ers to WDBJ’s Dig­i­tal Broad­cast Cen­ter af­ter a shoot­ing in Au­gust.

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