In the face of federal inaction, Virginia must fill the void with commonsense gun control.
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.
Orna Malone listens as Sen Tim Kaine (D-Va.) speaks to Moms Demand Action in Richmond last year.