( – promoted by lowkell)
Eight years ago, I got the phone call that no parent in America imagines ever getting. “I’ve been shot,” my daughter told me. Emily was in French class that spring day at Virginia Tech, and had just been shot in the head by a young man who legally bought firearms and ammunition in Virginia despite the fact that seemingly everyone who knew him knew he was dangerously mentally ill.
I was one of the lucky ones that day. My daughter survived. Thirty-two other families had to bury their loved ones, denied even the chance to say goodbye.
Many in the commonwealth wondered if April 16, 2007, would be a turning point. Would this be the moment that our legislators finally rejected the National Rifle Association’s fatal prescription and supported common-sense gun reforms?
Sadly, the immediate change we were hoping for did not come. But today, as the legislature weighs in on Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s vetoes of three noxious pieces of legislation, it is clear that gun violence prevention has become a winning issue in Virginia.
McAuliffe was one of three statewide candidates who swept to victory in the November 2013 elections while publicly and proudly embracing a platform calling for tougher gun laws (along with Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam and Attorney General Mark Herring). A few years ago, it would have been unfathomable for a Virginia gubernatorial candidate to announce at a televised debate, “I don’t care what grade I got from the NRA,” but that’s exactly what McAuliffe did. And he won.
Now he’s backing up the promises he made during his campaign. The bills the governor formally vetoed would have allowed loaded shotguns and rifles to be transported in vehicles, regardless of local laws; prevented Virginia law enforcement from sharing information about our state’s concealed handgun permit holders with certain other states; and forced local law enforcement to provide a certification or denial for the transfer of a machine gun within 60 days. These bills were all designed to be handouts to the gun lobby, and none of them had anything to do with improving public safety. In fact, they would have done just the opposite.
Championing gun violence prevention is now the political high ground in our rapidly changing commonwealth. And it’s not just McAuliffe stepping up. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, when approximately 500 Virginia residents gathered at the state Capitol to conduct a vigil for those killed by guns, our featured speaker was Attorney General Herring. Del. Kenneth Plum, who was first elected to the House in 1982, told us it was the biggest rally he’s ever seen at the Capitol. Attendance at the annual vigil has grown significantly in recent years.
The General Assembly is now starting to get the message: Virginia voters are tired of lawmaking in the interest of gun industry profit, no matter the cost to public safety.
The NRA will not be getting any gifts this year. And it’s not just the governor’s veto pen that’s making an impact. Those who would oppose gun violence prevention could only stand by and watch, for example, as the Republican-controlled Senate voted to kill legislation to allow guns in K-12 schools.
When then-gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe debated opponent Ken Cuccinelli at Virginia Tech in October 2013, he declared, “I never want to see another Newtown or Aurora or Virginia Tech ever again.”
Eight years after our state’s unforgettable tragedy, the governor is far from alone. Citizens in the commonwealth overwhelmingly support evidence-based policies like background checks on all gun sales and ensuring that dangerous individuals, like domestic abusers, don’t have access to firearms. However, some members of the General Assembly seem to be a little slow in understanding this new reality. I suspect that many of them are likely to get a wake-up call when voters head to the polls this November.
Lori Haas is the Virginia state director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, and was appointed to serve on the Virginia State Crime Commission by Governor McAuliffe in 2014. Contact her atLHAAS@csgv.org