To the Editor:
The debate between the candidates for the 34th District House of Delegates was canceled Tuesday night, Oct. 8. I have seen the various explanations provided by the host, Great Falls Citizens Association, as well as comments that have been posted online which contain statements that clearly are not true. I am a volunteer with the Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence and was there on Tuesday.
According to the original statement, "Eric Knudsen, president of the Great Falls Citizens Association, said he found out Tuesday afternoon that police had issued demonstration permits that were expected to bring a few hundred extra people to the event that had in the past already been crowded. ... 'It got to the point where I didn't feel like we were serving the community, and it was going to be a parking, traffic circus.'" The GFCA posted a separate statement, with a slightly revised explanation: "The night before the program, GFCA learned that a single-issue interest group from outside the community was planning demonstrations both outside and inside the event. On the afternoon of the event, GFCA learned that Fairfax County Park Authority had issued a permit for a demonstration at the event, which it was obligated to do. GFCA quickly explored the feasibility of getting support from the police to handle the anticipated crowd and traffic—our concerns being safety as well as order and civility."
Neither the original explanation nor the expanded explanation square with the facts. CCAGV was issued a single permit by the Park Authority. The permit was issued for 15 people, and the accompanying email stated that staff would be "on site for the event, and they are aware of your group and permit." That is about the number that showed up. There was no overcrowding, no traffic circus, and no lack of civility on the part of anyone who showed up to ask the candidates about their position on preventing gun violence. It is hard to understand how an anticipated 15 people could raise the specter of “outside disruption” and “crowding.”
I live in McLean. In fact, I live in the same neighborhood as Barbara Comstock. I work with a small but dedicated group of people who also live in this area and who care enough about our community to volunteer their time to work against gun violence. We are not "outsiders," and no one was or planned to be "disruptive" at the event on Tuesday.
One person, who is close to Del. Comstock, posted online that Mayor Bloomberg was there. Another said that we made robocalls to encourage attendance. Both are among charges launched at us that are pure fiction. It is true that Colin Goddard, one of the victims of the shooting at Virginia Tech, now works for the Mayors Against Gun Violence organization. However, he came to the scheduled debate in Great Falls after his work hours and in his capacity as a Virginian who was shot at Virginia Tech. When I asked him to help us raise awareness, he specifically told me that he was happy to do that, but in his personal capacity only. It is a sad day when anyone suggests that Colin Goddard is not welcome at a community event.
We have been unfairly raked over the coals. The facts simply do not support the attacks. Therefore, it raises the question of why this happened. Since our only goal was to get answers from Del. Comstock about her voting record on gun laws, and we did not hide that, one reasonable conclusion is that someone did not want us to ask the questions. Whatever the motivation, we still do not have answers from Del. Comstock about her position on sensible reforms to gun laws or her reasons for voting to allow guns in bars and to repeal the one-gun-a-month law.
I do not like all of the negative back and forth that this has generated but I cannot sit back and see false statements being made about dedicated Virginians who are working to reduce gun violence and senseless death.