Virginia’s attorney general asks: Are we standing up for Virginians or standing up for guns?
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law, a landmark achievement to reduce the flood of handguns into our communities that was recklessly repealed in 2012.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.