Unfortunately, there’s an epidemic of gun violence in this country and it almost seems as though people are getting used to hearing breaking news stories about another mass shooting. But the 29 deaths and dozens more injured after shootings in El Paso, TX and Dayton, OH this weekend have provided a stark reminder of how urgent action to address gun violence is truly needed.
If you take to social media right now, a lot of people are justifiably talking about the need to pass commonsense reforms to help address gun violence. People are right to be upset and disappointed that yet another tragedy has caused innocent victims to lose their lives, but it’s going to take more than a few social media posts to help make sure we see some sort of solution receiving serious discussion.
Right here in Virginia, we’ve seen how some elected officials are able to get away with blocking progress as the public’s attention shifts to something else. The mass shooting at a government office building Virginia Beach back in May sparked many Virginians into action and our elected officials faced a lot of pressure to get something done in the days after it happened. Gov. Ralph Northam even called a special session of the General Assembly to help address the issue of gun violence.
When the General Assembly actually came together in Richmond to consider proposals, however, the Republican leadership refused to allow any votes or even real discussion on the issues and adjourned the session less than two hours after it started. There was initially some hope that there’d been some legitimate discussion as Sen. Tommy Norment had made some proposals before the session to ban firearms in government facilities, but he pulled those from consideration after receiving pressure from his Republican colleagues — many of whom take a large amount of money in campaign donations from the NRA.
As our country is now mourning the loss of even more people from gun violence, this isn’t lost on many of Virginia’s elected officials and they’re making sure the public remembers what happened.
“Last month, the VA Republican majority would not even let us vote on commonsense gun violence prevention legislation,” Del. Haya Alaya said in a Facebook post on Sunday morning. “Americans are dying daily from gun violence. It is far past time to treat this epidemic with the urgency it deserves.”
“You know we tried by holding a special session to consider 8 reasonable initiatives in Virginia,” Sen. Jennifer Boysko said while also reminding people of the GOP’s actions. “The Republicans adjourned within 1 1/2 hours – after making sure we got paid for the day – but never even allowed discussion or debate on a serious proposal.”
Although Rep. Jennifer Wexton’s town hall meeting yesterday happened before many people were aware of the shooting in El Paso, she did receive some questions about how to prevent gun violence. One person at the event, who was actually chided by other members of the audience after he made it clear he disagreed with pretty much anything Wexton had to say on a variety of topics, tried to mock her by saying he knew “the difference between the [constitutional] amendments” and implying any gun reform would violate his second amendment rights while failing to prevent future violence.
Wexton’s response was well received by the audience as she pointed out there’s no single piece of legislation she believes would actually prevent all gun violence from happening in the future. Of course, that doesn’t mean she doesn’t want to see progress and she repeatedly called for implementing measures like universal background checks that could stop (or at least limit) some of the carnage.
In a sign of how much the NRA is trying to influence the discussion around gun violence, Wexton also received some heat from folks who want unlimited access to guns after she referred to silencers — something the shooter in Virginia Beach used during his attack in May, which potentially caused more deaths as many people who could have escaped the building failed to realize a shooting was actually taking place. The NRA doesn’t like the term silencer and instead wants them referred to as suppressors in a desperate attempt to hide how they’re only needed by people who don’t want to draw attention to the massive number of rounds they’re firing off.
While there are many elected officials here in Virginia who realize something must be done to address to issue of gun violence, there are some who don’t appear to fully understand what’s going on. In the aftermath of the El Paso shooting, Sen. Amanda Chase took to social media to blame the violence on gun free zones that supposedly prevent people from “protect[ing] themselves from evil.”
“I call upon the Governor and General Assembly to support the elimination of gun free zones here in the Commonwealth,” Sen. Chase said in a Facebook post on Saturday afternoon. “If there are gun free zones, they will be required to have adequate armed security. Each law abiding American has the right to protect themselves from evil.”
Setting aside how the Wal-Mart where the shooting took place in El Paso wasn’t a gun free zone and therefore takes away any justification Sen. Chase might have for the remarks, her comments remind me of a scene in the West Wing. In the aftermath of a shooting where President Jed Bartlett was hit, press secretary CJ Cregg was holding a briefing. She told the reporters assembled in the White House briefing room that “if anyone thinks those crimes could of been prevented if the victims themselves had been carrying guns, I only remind you that the president of the united states was shot last night while surrounded by the best trained armed guards in the history of the world.”
I fully understand that this was a fictional scene from a television show, but we’ve unfortunately had several presidents shot while being protected by the secret service. And countless other people with highly trained security guards have also be shot. If trained guards weren’t able to prevent these people, I can’t help but wonder what makes Sen. Chase think an average citizen would have the skills necessary to stop a mass shooting.
But Sen. Chase is just the latest example of how the NRA has an increasing influence over elected officials who are trying to prevent any meaningful discussion of how to stop gun violence. To make matters worse, the senator actually appears to enjoy sparking the controversy as she’s made a point of wearing a handgun on her hip while on the Senate floor because she says that might deter violence (despite armed police officers already being present in the General Assembly building). She also recently blamed rape victims for not being armed when she told one of her constituents “it’s those who are naive and unprepared that end up raped. Sorry. But I’m not going to be a statistic.”
All in all, what this really all comes down to is the question of when will our leaders truly stand up to the NRA and take meaningful steps towards ending gun violence.
“How many times do we have to wake up to another mass shooting before we do something about it?” Kenny Boddye asked on Sunday morning. “How many children need to be buried? How many loved ones said goodbye to? Hospital beds filled? At what point do we put fears of bad faith aside to save lives?”