Virginians are lovers of history, including this Virginian as regular readers of this column know. This year Virginia is celebrating 400 years since the first representative legislative body met at Jamestown. Virginia is the Mother of Presidents.
One bit of history that continues to loom large in Virginia’s psyche these days with as little mention as possible from the state apologists is the prevalence of gun violence in the Commonwealth. Twelve years ago the campus of Virginia Tech was the scene of the largest mass murder of its time. While other mass murders have occurred since then, VA Tech through no direct fault of its own continues to hold the record for the most people killed on a college campus.
Virginia last week made history again. Virginia Beach was the scene of the biggest mass murder so far this year. A dubious distinction that we would least like to have. Virginia lost 1,028 people to gun violence in 2017, and as the Governor described it, that is almost three people a day; that is more deaths than those due to vehicle accidents.
For Governor Ralph Northam and for me and countless other Virginians, we long ago have had enough. As Governor Northam said in a press conference which I took part in last week: “No one should go to work, to school, or to church wondering if they will come home. But that is what our society has come to, because we fail to act on gun violence. I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.”
The laws he is seeking to get passed have been introduced in the General Assembly during its regular sessions without success. In a special session that will begin in the coming weeks, only bills intended to end gun violence will be considered. And the Governor requested that “members of the General Assembly engage in an open and transparent debate and that the bills brought before the legislature are put to a vote by the entire General Assembly.”
Bills related to gun violence that have been introduced in the regular session including my bill to require universal background checks have been routinely referred by the Speaker of the House to the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee where they are sent to a subcommittee of six members. The members of the subcommittee are appointed by the Speaker of the House, four of whom have perfect voting records of opposing any gun safety legislation. My background check bill and the approximate 15 other bills related to preventing gun violence were defeated on a predictable vote of 2 to 4 with limited discussion or debate. Yes, that’s right. Four members who are buddies with the NRA get to make the decision of 140 elected members of the General Assembly.
It is time for Virginia to make history again by leading the nation in doing the right thing to end gun violence. Voters, please pay close attention to how your elected representatives vote.