Daily Press (Sunday)

From anguish to action

A year after Chesapeake shooting, urgency needed to curb gun violence


The eyes of Hampton Roads will turn to Chesapeake this week as that community marks the one-year anniversar­y of a mass shooting at the Walmart off North Battlefiel­d Boulevard.

For families of the victims and survivors from the store, it's been a year of pain, loss and tremendous sorrow trying to make sense in the aftermath of tragedy. The whole of our community should be holding those affected in our hearts.

But as has been demonstrat­ed time and again, thoughts and prayers are an insufficie­nt response to the deadly gun violence that continues to inflict lasting harm on communitie­s across Virginia. This, again, is a time for action, with hope that the General Assembly prioritize­s gun safety and mental illness programs when it convenes in January.

As shoppers moved through the store on Nov. 22, only a few days before Thanksgivi­ng, an overnight team manager at a Chesapeake Walmart opened fire in an employee break room, fatally shooting six of his co-workers and injuring six others before taking his own life.

For the families of those killed — Tyneka Johnson, 22, of Portsmouth; Kellie Pyle,

52, of Norfolk; Brian Pendleton, 38, of Chesapeake; Randall Blevins, 70, of Chesapeake; Lorenzo Gamble, 43, of Chesapeake; and Fernando Chavez-Barron, 16, of Chesapeake — the year has been one of anguish and sorrow. They have endured a wretched, painful loss, one borne by too many families across the commonweal­th

and the nation.

Without a criminal record, the shooter was able to legally purchase a 9mm handgun on the day of the shooting. Virginia doesn't require a waiting period for firearm purchases, which allowed the shooter to buy a gun in the morning and use it to kill his co-workers that evening.

Don't expect that to change in January, although it should. Though Democrats won slim majorities in both General Assembly chambers, they would need support from Republican lawmakers and Gov. Glenn Youngkin to enact meaningful measures such as that — a law that could have prevented this terrible rampage and

senseless loss of life.

That was made clear last year when the General Assembly — with a GOP majority in the House and a Democratic majority in the Senate — couldn't even pass a bill that would have required gun owners in homes with minors to keep their firearms secured. This was only weeks after a first grader used an unsecured gun to shoot his teacher at Richneck Elementary School in Newport News.

There are reasonable, commonsens­e changes to state law that would make it harder for those with ill intent from getting their hands on guns while still protecting the constituti­onal rights of the public, but those would take courage from officials who see the carnage and are content to do nothing to stop it.

Stronger laws are an important piece of the puzzle, but only one of many that can help curb gun violence in our communitie­s. The other component is organizing a full-court press to address the situation from multiple fronts, something our basketball-loving governor should appreciate.

Gun violence is a public health crisis and should be treated as such, addressing the perpetrato­rs and victims of violence, and their families, along with communitie­s that have endured years of trauma from seeing so much death and bloodshed.

That requires sustained community engagement, not only from law enforcemen­t but through social services, counseling and even economic developmen­t programs — efforts that can turn young people away from violence and toward productive contributi­ons to society.

And there is a behavioral health component as well. Law enforcemen­t cited the Chesapeake shooter's eroding mental health prior to the attack. Youngkin and the legislatur­e have done well to prioritize investment in mental health programs and must sustain that momentum in the coming session.

This will be a time of mourning for our community, celebratin­g the memory of loved ones lost, but it should also be a time of action in the hope that hard work now can spare other Virginia communitie­s this sorrow.

 ?? BILLY SCHUERMAN/STAFF ?? Friends and family of Fernando Chavez Jr., a 16-year-old killed in last November’s mass shooting at a Chesapeake Walmart, hold a vigil days after his death.
BILLY SCHUERMAN/STAFF Friends and family of Fernando Chavez Jr., a 16-year-old killed in last November’s mass shooting at a Chesapeake Walmart, hold a vigil days after his death.

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