How do you respond to a 7 year old when she comes home from school and says “we did our bad man drill today Mommy, but don’t worry it was just for practice, no one really came into our school to shoot us”?
After the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting on Dec. 14, 2012, I learned that this was a routine drill she had been doing since she started kindergarten in 2011. It was only after Sandy Hook that I had discovered that fact. So what else did I not know? As it turned out — plenty.
Like so many, I was horrified by what had happened in Newtown and as a mother of a 6 year and 3 year old, at the time, I wanted to do what any mother would do and find out what precautions my schools were taking. Certainly our schools in Fairfax were safer from gun violence than, say the schools where I grew up in rural Brookville, Kansas where guns were prevalent. I embarked on this journey and made some startling discoveries.
First, I attended our PTO meeting in February and listened to our principal explain what they could and could not do — there were limitations and budget constraints, and that our school was at a greater risk of a shooting from a custody dispute or domestic violence than a mass shooting. While I acknowledged his comments, it was unsettling to learn he prepares for risks of gun violence stemming from custody disputes.
Soon after, I discovered that Virginia is among the states that allow open carry. When I was in my grocery store and saw a customer wearing a “I shoot to kill” t-shirt, I asked the manager if weapons were banned from the store. He replied that Virginia was an open carry state but he reassured me that patrons would have to openly display weapons if they carried them.
That led me to my third discovery and that was the facts around concealed weapon permits in Virginia. When I think of someone with a concealed weapon permit I think of someone with extensive training. But the threshold in Virginia was lowered in 2009. Virginia enacted a law allowing an applicant to demonstrate competence with a gun by participating in electronic, video, or online training. Essentially all that is needed is an internet connection, a printer, and small fee. Handling a gun is not a prerequisite.
I discovered these revelations about the time Congress failed to pass a background check, which brought me to my fourth discovery — Virginia does not require universal background checks.
The only thing more startling than learning of the low thresholds and deficiencies in background checks was the revelation that the trajectory over the past 10 years has been to weaken gun laws in Virginia.
I want complete and thorough background checks before someone purchases a gun in Virginia. Why would anyone not want that especially in light of Virginia’s existing laws allowing open carry and granting a low bar for concealed permits? I want to know that if I’m in my local grocery store shopping for milk and eggs that the customer next to me with a concealed weapon purchased the gun through a background check. I want to know that any risk stemming from a custody dispute or domestic violence, which could spill over into my school, has been mitigated by a law that requires a background check. And most importantly, I want to prevent dangerous weapons from falling into the hands of criminals, violent abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill.
I listened to the Governor’s debate on Sept. 25. In a post-Newtown and Navy Yard context, I welcomed Mr. McAuliffe’s strong position for universal background checks. As a mother, my first priority is protecting my children. A candidate seeking the highest elected office in Virginia should have the wellbeing of all of our children among his highest priorities. Gun violence is a growing threat in this society with Virginia Tech, Tuscan, Aura, Newtown, and the Navy Yard. For such a serious issue we need serious solutions from serious candidates not what the NRA is serving up which is a campaign of distraction to excuse the violence committed with guns.
As far as seeking the right words to respond to my daughter’s declaration about their “bad man drills” — I haven’t found the right words, I just hug her and thank God it was just a drill and she made it through the day safely.
Ruth Hoffman is a resident of McLean.