by State Senator Dave Marsden (D-Burke)
Since my first election in 2006 I have attempted to understand the thinking of gun owners who take an absolutist view of gun rights. I once had a group of them over to my house to discuss their thoughts on gun rights as I was thinking of introducing gun safety legislation in the House of Delegates in that upcoming session. I have always invited large and small groups of Virginia Citizens Defense League members to my office on their lobby day and once had a Republicans only town hall meeting where guns were but one of the issues I was taken to task on. While I do not purport that that makes me an expert, I think I have obtained a broad perspective as to how and why some gun owners have the extreme view that no gun safety laws are acceptable. As a juvenile probation officer, Superintendent of Fairfax County’s Juvenile Detention Center for 17 years and Chief Deputy and Acting Director of the 2700 employee Virginia Department of Juvenile Justice in the early 2000’s I have witnessed numerous gun tragedies, both for the victims and the owners of guns involved in those tragedies.
Over my career I have had numerous conversations with fathers after their sons have been involved in criminal behavior with a family-owned gun that usually started with “but he’s never touched that gun before”. After pointing out that he is no longer a young child but is now a troubled young person with family, school, and drug issues that have led to emotional disturbance and anger problem. After the juvenile court was compelled to incarcerate a 9 year old in my detention center after the second incident of his taking his step-fathers assault rifle onto a metro bus my conversation with that stepfather ended with this…..”I’ll leave my g.. d… gun on my g.. d… coffee table if I g.. d… feel like it and if he takes it it’s his g.. d… fault. Safe storage and gun purchase age restrictions are issues we have not addressed but should be a priority in the next General Assembly session. Richmond City experiences hundreds of gun thefts from cars every year as you only have to secure a gun (your car door storage slot will do) not lock it up to prevent theft. We need to require guns to be locked up when the driver is away from the car.
The resistance I will receive will be based on the fundamentalist view that the Second Amendment is sacrosanct and allows for no exceptions, even though the Second Amendment deals with a citizen’s right to bear arms related to a “well-regulated militia”. Clearly, we do not regulate it very well.
But where does this fundamentalist view come from? Most Americans, in rather large majorities, favor certain restrictions and requirements for gun purchase and ownership. The short answer is dreams and fears. Let me explain.
I once had several conversations with a prominent attorney in Fairfax who had a fundamentalist view of gun purchase and ownership. It was a great conversation around constitutional arguments and both of us tried to respect the others viewpoint. In one of our conversations we delved into assault rifles and my view that they were a danger, not essential for hunting or sport, and stirred unhealthy thoughts in disturbed and angry people seeking a symbol of power that could turn deadly. He opined that, and I quote, “if my wife was being held in the backyard by an MS-13 gang member who had a machete at her throat I would need the AK” (AK-47 Assault Rifle). OOOOOOKAY, so much for rational discussion. The fear of being outgunned or not having the appropriate weapon is real to many people. He later became upset with my vote to ban “Ghost Guns” (homemade guns without serial numbers making them untraceable). He could not conceive that something he made privately in his own home could possibly be illegal, and besides, it was his hobby. We haven’t spoken since. Military style weapons need to be curtailed.
His fears are very real to him and to thousands of other Virginians who cannot envision a world where their dream of owning every type of firearm necessary for their preparedness and protection has been limited in any way. This also extends to body armor piercing bullets and devices that allow guns to be altered to fire more rapidly. I know someone whose goal was to have 100,000 rounds of ammunition. Why? A dream of preparedness that had become an obsession. An unhealthy dream, an unhealthy obsession, and a rather dangerous garage full of explosive material. I checked with county police in his
county of his residence. Nothing they could do.
I remember having a conversation with two very polite young gun rights advocates in my office in Richmond that included my wife, Julia. She commented afterwards that they were very emotional over the fear that they might lose something they felt they had to have to realize their dreams of self-protection and preparedness. I agreed with my wife and added that many gun rights advocates are also enamored with collecting guns as people collect many different things that become their passion. But art, stamps or butterflies do not kill people. Gun collections, or just the family gun, will long outlive a responsible owner who will have no control over a gun’s inevitable journey that will often find that gun in the wrong hands through sale, theft or irresponsible/troubled inheritor of the gun.
The passion of many gun owners is real. These individuals are a force in political party primaries and will be feared by politicians. Tragedies like Uvalde only convince them more that the world is a dangerous place…and you need a gun…or maybe lots of them. Most Americans feel otherwise and believe in policies that will reduce gun violence. They know we have a responsibility to leave our commonwealth safer.