In the face of fed­eral in­ac­tion, Vir­ginia must fill the void with com­mon­sense gun con­trol.

The Washington Post Sunday - - METRO - BY KERRY DONLEY, EL­IZ­ABETH BEN­NETT-PARKER AND RICHARD MER­RITT Kerry Donley is a for­mer mayor of Alexan­dria. El­iz­abeth Ben­nett-Parker is vice mayor-elect of Alexan­dria. Richard Mer­ritt is a mem­ber of the Alexan­dria Pub­lic Health Ad­vi­sory Com­mis­sion.

In his in­au­gu­ral speech in Jan­uary 2018, Vir­ginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) pro­claimed, “If we are go­ing to build a health­ier Vir­ginia for ev­ery­one, we must ad­dress the pub­lic-health cri­sis of gun vi­o­lence.” The gov­er­nor has es­tab­lished gun safety as a top pri­or­ity in this year’s leg­isla­tive ses­sion.

Just four weeks later, on Valen­tine’s Day, one of the dead­li­est mass shoot­ings in his­tory oc­curred at Mar­jory Stone­man Dou­glas High School in Park­land, Fla., where a for­mer stu­dent al­legedly killed 17 stu­dents and fac­ulty. Less than three weeks af­ter the Park­land shoot­ings, the Alexan­dria City Coun­cil and the Alexan­dria City School Board adopted res­o­lu­tions call­ing on the fed­eral gov­ern­ment and the Vir­ginia Gen­eral Assem­bly to adopt com­mon-sense gun laws. Nei­ther got much at­ten­tion, par­tic­u­larly in Rich­mond, where the Gen­eral Assem­bly tabled ev­ery gun con­trol bill brought forth by a Demo­crat.

This in­ac­tion was es­pe­cially cal­lous in the face of such sta­tis­tics as:

• Vir­ginia is one of 17 states where more peo­ple are killed an­nu­ally by gun­fire than in car ac­ci­dents.

• Sui­cide rates in Vir­ginia have been slowly increasing over the past two decades, with hand­guns the cause of death in sui­cides in al­most 60 per­cent of cases.

• In Vir­ginia, women are killed with guns by in­ti­mate part­ners at a higher rate than the na­tional av­er­age.

The Alexan­dria City School Board’s res­o­lu­tion had a par­tic­u­larly tren­chant sen­tence that cap­tured well the state of af­fairs re­lated to gun vi­o­lence preven­tion within the com­mon­wealth: “The on­go­ing po­lit­i­cal in­ac­tion is fail­ing our chil­dren.”

Into this void of po­lit­i­cal in­ac­tion, a small but ded­i­cated group of civic­minded Alexan­dri­ans has stepped for­ward to pro­pose some mod­est leg­isla­tive changes within the city and in Rich­mond to lower the level of risk of ex­po­sure to gun vi­o­lence for our chil­dren and fam­i­lies. With fed­eral in­ac­tion, sound, com­mon-sense gun con­trol must be­gin at the local and state lev­els.

In the im­me­di­ate wake of the tragic shoot­ings in Flor­ida, school of­fi­cials and elected leaders in Alexan­dria and around the com­mon­wealth un­doubt­edly re­vis­ited se­cu­rity pro­to­cols and safety mea­sures to en­sure that nothing had been over­looked and to ex­am­ine what, if any­thing, they could learn from the Park­land ex­pe­ri­ence. We sup­port such ef­forts; Alexan­dria must not be caught in the lens of af­ter­thought be­liev­ing “it could never happen here.”

Al­though the risk of death or in­jury by firearm of a child, teacher or other em­ployee while at school can never be zero, it is prob­a­bly as close to zero as it has ever been. David Ropeik, an in­struc­tor at Har­vard Univer­sity and au­thor of “How Risky Is It, Re­ally? Why Our Fears Don’t Al­ways Match the Facts,” says, “The chance of a child be­ing shot and killed in a pub­lic school is ex­traor­di­nar­ily low. Not zero — no risk is. But it’s far lower than many peo­ple as­sume, es­pe­cially in the glare of heart-wrench­ing news cov­er­age af­ter an event like Park­land. And it’s far lower than al­most any other mor­tal­ity risk a kid faces, in­clud­ing trav­el­ing to and from school, catch­ing a po­ten­tially deadly dis­ease while in school or suf­fer­ing a lifethreat­en­ing in­jury play­ing . . . sports.”

Do we not owe it to our kids, our fam­i­lies and our fel­low ci­ti­zens to in­vest as much at­ten­tion and as many re­sources to prevent­ing in­jury and death by firearms in non­school en­vi­ron­ments as we in­vest in mak­ing our kids safer while in school? Our small al­liance is com­mit­ted to putting the spot­light on many of the ar­eas where gun vi­o­lence preven­tion and re­duc­tion are “un­der­nour­ished.”

Some na­tional data high­lights those con­cerns very well:

• Firearms are the sec­ond-lead­ing cause be­hind car ac­ci­dents for in­juryre­lated deaths of chil­dren ages 1 to 17.

• About one-third of Amer­i­can fam­i­lies with chil­dren have firearms, and of those house­holds, 43 per­cent con­tain at least one un­locked firearm.

• Sui­cide ac­counts for nearly twothirds of gun deaths in the United States, killing more than 21,000 Amer­i­cans each year.

• Since 2007, child firearm sui­cides in­creased by nearly 60 per­cent.

• Do­mes­tic vi­o­lence claims nearly 2,000 lives and in­jures many more each year, and 70 per­cent of the vic­tims are women. More than half the time, the weapon used to carry out an “in­ti­mate part­ner” homi­cide is a gun.

As a re­sult of dis­cus­sions with key leaders on the City Coun­cil, in­clud­ing new mem­bers, the Alexan­dria com­mu­nity can ex­pect to see de­bate over a few leg­isla­tive pro­pos­als — keep­ing il­le­gal guns off the streets, en­cour­ag­ing re­spon­si­ble stor­age — that should re­duce the risk of gun vi­o­lence.

How­ever, the Gen­eral Assem­bly must re­store author­ity to reg­u­late firearms to local gov­ern­ments. We are ask­ing the Alexan­dria del­e­ga­tion to the Gen­eral Assem­bly to rally be­hind two spe­cific mea­sures dur­ing the 2019 ses­sion:

(1) grant lo­cal­i­ties the author­ity to pro­hibit firearms in pub­lic build­ings: city halls, re­cre­ation cen­ters, libraries, etc., and,

(2) re­move key ex­emp­tions in current law to pro­hibit­ing pos­ses­sion of firearms of any type on school prop­erty.

Such ac­tions would put local gov­ern­ments on a path to­ward equal part­ner­ship with our gov­er­nor in his quest to “build a health­ier Vir­ginia for ev­ery­one” by be­gin­ning to ad­dress the pub­lic-health cri­sis of gun vi­o­lence.

TI­MOTHY C. WRIGHT FOR THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Orna Malone lis­tens as Sen Tim Kaine (D-Va.) speaks to Moms De­mand Ac­tion in Rich­mond last year.

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