by Susan Ahern
Growing up poor in a small Northeast city Newsweek once dubbed Murder Town USA, I couldn’t dodge gun violence. I cringed at a bullet lodged in a store owner’s chest. I crawled under windows during a riot outside our house, fearing a bullet might crash through glass. And later, I was terrified after our school’s star athlete got shot dead in front of the cafeteria. But going to college on loans, eventually settling in a prosperous suburb 300 miles south, I marveled at my escape! That is, until our son was at Virginia Tech during the massacre.
Then I faced facts: You can’t move away from gun violence in America.
Fortunately, my son was not shot. But I have friends whose kids barely survived the massacre. Their stories horrify: one friend’s son lost consciousness, dropping his cell phone after being shot, and another friend’s daughter retrieved it, finishing the call to 911– the classmates’ blood mingling together. These stories infuriate, especially since Virginia legislators, after the deadliest American shooting by a single gunman, have done little to prevent another massacre.
I joined a determined band of activists working to pass gun-safety laws. We warriors were the ugly stepsisters at the ball, especially through long years of GOP dominance in Virginia. (The party interpreted Second Amendment rights to favor individuals over public safety.)
All that changed with Governor McAuliffe’s election in 2013. He championed his “F” NRA rating, treating us like Cinderella at the ball. Peter Read, an ex-Air Force officer, whose daughter Mary was shot to death at Virginia Tech, says he stood with McAuliffe at an MLK Day rally. “[McAuliffe] said all the right things about [gun violence prevention]; he fired us up, warmed our hearts,” Read said. “But later we came to find out that by then, his gun deal was mostly done. We felt misled.”
The deal Read is referring to is a bargain on concealed-carry handgun reciprocity McAuliffe’s negotiators quietly struck with a bunch of good ol’ boy NRA members—with no input from survivor families. Not even a high-profile female gun-safety activist the governor appointed to the Virginia Crime Commission. Most concerning: the governor’s deal paves the way for the NRA’s ultimate goal of concealed carry of handguns nationally without permits or standards, which puts the public at risk.
McAuliffe’s deal reversed a dramatic order by Virginia’s Attorney General, Mark Herring. In December 2015, AG Herring, with the governor’s blessing, enforced concealed-carry handgun laws already on the books, while revoking reciprocity with states that didn’t meet Virginia’s safety standards. That meant not letting outside folks carry loaded guns in Virginia if they’d had a disqualifying mental-health history, been convicted of weapons charges, domestic assault, sexual offenses, or committed crimes as juveniles that would be adult felonies.
After preaching how much safer Virginia would be, the governor’s staff secretly met with the NRA and astonishingly bargained away Herring’s brave action on guns. McAuliffe got little back in the deal.
Andy Goddard, activist and father of a son shot at VA Tech, says, “The governor’s negotiators gave away the farm for a basket of eggs.” Goddard says the part of the deal that was supposed to make the gun-safety crowd happy by requiring convicted domestic abusers to forfeit guns is a positive. But the bill provides no funding or police action to take guns from abusers, thus it’s as weak as the federal bill it aims to tighten. And the narrow background-check bill in the governor’s deal is voluntary, so again has no teeth.
Speculation is rampant as to why Gov. McAuliffe cozied up to the NRA. Was he aiming to tamp down GOP fury at AG Herring’s reciprocity order to pave the way for Hillary Clinton in Virginia? Was it because McAuliffe faced lame-duck status with an intractable GOP-dominated legislature?
Andy Parker, father of the young reporter slain on live TV in Virginia last August, says: “[I’m] still having a hard time wrapping my arms around why [the Governor] would cut such a horrible deal. I have to wonder what his longtime colleague Hillary Clinton must think since she’s been so vocal in her support of this movement…”
The Governor’s deal is zipping through the legislature and will soon land on McAuliffe’s desk. Gun victims’ families are imploring the public to urge McAuliffe to veto the handgun reciprocity part of his deal that allows lawbreakers from other states to carry loaded guns in Virginia.
Veto it because McAuliffe’s lead negotiators in his gun deal squandered a Daddy Ace: the GOP was desperate to strike a bargain! The GOP had been getting hammered from outraged handgun carriers who believed AG Herring’s severing of Virginia’s reciprocity with many states would not allow them to carry handguns themselves in those states
“I wish,” says Read, “Governor McAuliffe’s pride wouldn’t keep him from admitting that his ‘historic’ gun deal, first in 23-years—is not the great deal he thought it was. And as the most powerful man in Virginia, he could swap this deal for a better deal all around. If he wanted.”