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Commentary: Stemming Gun Violence

While President Obama in his statement about the Trayvon Martin case reminded us, “we are a nation of laws, and a jury has spoken,” he went on to say that “we should ask ourselves if we’re doing all we can to stem the tide of gun violence that claims too many lives across this country on a daily basis.” Not only are we not doing enough, but we are seeing actions on the part of congressmen and senators and state legislators fearful of the gun lobby that may well result in more gun violence. When handguns used in the commission of crimes were traced to Virginia in such great numbers that the state became known as the “gun-running capital of the east,” the state legislature put in place a limitation of one handgun purchase per month. This year the General Assembly repealed that law. If 12 pistols were too few a year, one can now buy however many are desired!

According to a USA Today editorial, in 1981 19 states prohibited people from carrying a hidden weapon in public, “but a powerful gun lobby has turned that system upside down.” Four states now allow persons to carry hidden firearms without a permit, and in 35 states, including Virginia, officials must issue permits to just about anyone who applies unless they have committed a felony. Hidden guns are now allowed in restaurants and bars and public places.

Most frightening of all are the changes in state law to allow persons to stand their ground and use deadly force in any location one is legally allowed to be without first attempting to retreat. Florida was the first state to adopt such a law that had been drafted by the National Rifle Association and promoted by the American Legislative Exchange Council to almost two dozen states. The instructions to the jury in the Zimmerman case made it clear that if “he had a right to be where he had a right to be, he had no duty to retreat.” Efforts to enact a “stand your ground” law have been made in Virginia and are likely to continue until successful. Not only is there a proliferation of guns, but laws are being rewritten to expand the instances in which they can be used against another.

There were the tragedies at Virginia Tech, Columbine, Newtown and thousands of other instances of gun violence. What will be the tragedy that will cause us to wake up and insist that no constitutional right can be argued that reduces the safety of others and enhances the potential for violence?