by Virginia State Sen. Dave Marsden
Thank you for your letter and your concerns over Gov. Northam’s Special Session devoted to gun safety issues. I certainly support the right of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms for protection of their homes and person, as well as, for responsible recreational use. I also support well-regulated concealed weapons carry. That being said, the underlying principle of Virginia law with regards to firearms is to keep them out of the hands of felons, those adjudicated mentally ill, and children unsupervised by adults.
I spent my career working in the juvenile justice system as a probation officer, secure detention superintendent, and for two and a half years Chief Deputy and Acting Director of Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice. I have therefore been exposed to numerous gun-related incidents that never made the news but have convinced me that our possession and use of firearms must be thoughtfully regulated.
Here is what I believe: requiring background checks for every purchase of a firearm is critical to our safety. Responsible and law-abiding gun owners have been proven to be less responsible than I would wish with regard to the sale and storage of their weapons. I do not believe that the Governor’s bills prevent any law-abiding citizen from possessing and using firearms for their intended purpose. The school shootings are a national nightmare, but pale in comparison to the number of people who are shot in anger, by accident, or through suicide because guns are so easily accessible. While creating some inconvenience, I do not believe that any of the Governor’s bills infringe on Second Amendment rights.
On Gun Lobby Day, I am visited by members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. They are all good people and see themselves as responsible gun-owners. However, none of them have been able to successfully answer the question as to what happens to their guns when they die. They also cannot answer the question as to whether they or a member of their family will one day use their guns inappropriately or unlawfully if they fall victim to drug abuse, alcoholism, mental illness or that their family members will not fall victim to the same. Guns are inanimate objects whose nature never changes. Our lives change and the lives of our families change dramatically. The twelve year old who would never touch the family firearm is far different from that same child who is fifteen years, emotionally disturbed, angry, and drug-addicted in a family that is at war with itself. The responsible social drinker at age 25 cannot foresee a day when they are a problem drinker and a domestic abuser. Nor can a family predict that depression could lead to the suicide of a beloved wife and mother. Many times an unsecured gun is the cause of an accidental shooting….usually involving a child. You might think this can’t happen to you because you are a responsible gun owner.
All guns traditionally begin their life in legal ownership. Legal ownership translates to law-abiding citizen and responsible gun owner. No gun owner has ever told me that they weren’t both of those things. Yet, their guns somehow fall out of their control through death, sale, misappropriation or theft and therein lies much of our national tragedy related to gun use. The gun you handle responsibly today will one day be the gun that someone else uses irresponsibly tomorrow. It is just a fact. You cannot control what others will do with your gun someday when it is theirs. You will probably not be around to see the damage your gun causes because hey, “it’s not my fault what others do.” Unfortunately, it is likely those others will be your relatives. That is just my experience. I cannot tell you how many conversations I have had with parents in the juvenile justice system whose first words were, “but he’s never touched that gun before; we don’t understand.” Trust me, that is something that I do understand.
I know that most of you disagree with almost everything I have said. Guns are not as great a problem as our national obsession with them and the irrational fear that guns will be taken away if we begin the process of regulating them more appropriately. When we denied felons and the mentally ill the right to own firearms it did not lead to gun confiscation. The Constitution does not make exceptions to the Second Amendment for felons and the mentally ill. We did that through passage of laws, and I have never met anyone who disagrees. Why can we not continue to improve our regulation of legal guns to ensure everyone’s safety?
I hope you will join me in the debate over how we can regulate our firearms effectively and appropriately without interfering with the basic American right of gun-ownership. It is not easy, but it must be done and will not be successful without the help of gun-owners like you.
My cell number is (xxx) xxx-xxxx. I have spoken with a number of thoughtful people who have sent emails such as yours and surprisingly there is much common ground. The only thing lacking is a commitment to get something done. It is my belief that the time has come. Thank you for your letter and I look forward to talking with any of you who would like to further the discussion.
Doing nothing is no longer an option.