For almost 20 years I have been fighting for better gun laws in Virginia — laws to prevent the unspeakable horrors that we saw in Virginia Beach on May 31 when a gunman with two .45 caliber handguns with high-capacity magazines murdered 12 people and injured many others.
At times, I have felt like it was an exercise in futility — that I was simply banging my head against the wall. No matter how sensible the proposal introduced, it would be killed in committee by Republicans and a few rural Democrats and never even make it to the floor for a vote.
We might have 20 people testify in support of bills including victims of gun violence, law enforcement, and the medical community; yet the voice of one gun industry lobbyist opposed to the measures would be the only one that mattered.
After the shooting at Virginia Tech, there was a slow movement towards change — at least among Democrats. It was a movement that accelerated in the aftermath of the shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School that left 26 little children and educators dead. Rural Democrats aligned with the majority in their party and started speaking out about the need for stronger laws to curtail the carnage. In fact, many Democratic candidates at even the highest levels of government began to run on the issue vowing to fight for sensible gun violence prevention measures if elected. Those Democrats won including most recently, Governor Northam, Lt. Governor, Fairfax and Attorney General Herring. And it should be no surprise. Polling tells us that as much as 90 percent of the public is in favor of stronger gun laws such as expanding background checks.
So, with the public and a Governor who clearly supports gun violence prevention measures, why can’t we affect change? Because the GOP is in control of both chambers of the General Assembly and they continue to kowtow to the gun lobby instead of taking the decisive action that would make the Commonwealth safer for us all. Take the 2019 session for example. Democrats introduced dozens of firearms bills including ones to expand background checks, ban assault weapons, limit high-capacity magazines, cap handgun purchases to one a month, and to keep guns out of the hands of domestic violence abusers. Republicans defeated them all.
Gun violence has become a public health crisis in Virginia and across the country. But it is an epidemic that we know how to treat. Stronger gun laws won’t prevent all senseless acts of violence but they will save lives. To get the stronger laws we deserve, we must vote for candidates who are more afraid of another horrific shooting than they are of the gun lobby and at this juncture, only the Democrats can stake that claim.
The proposals already exist. We know what needs to be done. And once Democrats are the majority party in both chambers we will finally be able to pass bills to make Virginia safer and Governor Northam will gladly sign them into law.
The writer is president of the Northern Virginia Brady Chapter, United Against Gun Violence.