Six years ago, my daughter Emily was in French class at Virginia Tech when a gunman opened fire, ultimately killing 32 students and staff members. Emily was shot twice in the back of the head but survived.
In the wake of our collective horror and shock, as we asked how can something like this happen, a review panel was assembled by then-Governor Tim Kaine to figure out what needed to change so that never again would this happen.
That review panel, among other things, recommended universal background checks.
Virginia should require background checks for all firearms sales, including those at gun shows. In an age of widespread information technology, it should not be too difficult for anyone, including private sellers, to contact the Virginia Firearms Transaction Program for a background check that usually only takes minutes before transferring a firearm. The program already processes transactions made by registered dealers at gun shows. The practice should be expanded to all sales. Virginia should also provide an enhanced penalty for guns sold without a background check and later used in a crime.But six years later, nothing has changed and more than 187,000 people have been killed by guns.
To mark the anniversary, Virginians for Responsible Gun Laws, a project of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence (CSGV), is demanding action from House Majority Leader Eric Cantor through a series of billboards that went up today in Cantor's home district.
The billboards feature a well-known image from a vigil held at Virginia Tech and carry the message, "187,082 gun deaths in America since Virginia Tech. Ask Eric Cantor 'How many MORE must die?'" This message is on display on billboards located at I-64 at Laburnum Ave, the 7900 Block of W. Broad Street, Laburnum Ave, 9500 W. Broad Street and Parham Road just south of I-95, all locations within or near Cantor's congressional district.
More about the billboards can be found here.
As Governor Allen was leaving the room, he took questions from several individuals lined up to speak with him. Knowing that the NRA does not release their completed surveys, I asked the governor if he would release his survey himself-repeatedly-and never got an answer.
When he served as a U.S. Senator from 2001-2007, George Allen voted to allow the federal ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines to expire. We are now seeing the consequences of this disastrous policy choice in gruesome mass shootings across America, like the one in the movie theater in Aurora recently and right here in Virginia - Cho used high capacity magazines when he shot and killed 32 students & staff at Va Tech.
It's not hard to imagine where Governor Allen now stands on other gun policies: Allowing concealed carry reciprocity with any state, requiring no background checks on 40% of firearms purchasers, permitting those on the FBI's terrorist watch list to purchase firearms at will, restricting ATF's ability to collect and disseminate crime gun trace data, etc, etc.
The bottom line is this... If a candidate is going to take the time to answer questions on a survey for a special interest group that spends millions of dollars lobbying our elected representatives, then those voting to send him/her into office deserve to get exactly the same answers and find out what has been promised to that special interest.
The citizens of Virginia deserve transparency and accountability. They should demand it from George Allen.
See the NRA survey here:
Sadly, no one is surprised. We no longer live in a civilized society if anyone can walk into a sporting goods shop and buy an AR15 and amass thousands of rounds of ammunition including 100 round clips in order to kill fellow human beings. While the investigation continues, will anyone be surprised to learn that this man is mentally disturbed, as many assume he is?
In the last ten years, we have lost approximately 6,000 soldiers in war - a devastating number. In that same time period, 300,000 American citizens have been killed by guns right here at home. As Jesse Jackson pointed out on Friday, 50 times more American citizens died from guns here on American soil than our self sacrificing soldiers at war!
Americans do not lack compassion and are of course upset by the events in Aurora. But what good is this compassion if we allow these massacres to continue, not to mention the daily death toll (32 per day) that our lax gun laws force on our communities. Compassion serves no purpose if we allow our lawmakers to do nothing time and time again despite the never ending mass shootings that occur in this country.
Our representatives have been corrupted to the point of ignoring their convictions and the reality of the catastrophe happening every day in America. The easy access of firearms, not to mention the types of firepower available is the issue staring them in the face every day yet they do nothing. When we continue to elect them without demanding they do all they can to save innocent American lives, we all have blood on our hands.
I am the mother of one of the students who, by a miracle of less than ½ an inch, survived gunshots wounds to the back of her head. My daughter told me that with head wounds bleeding, she played "dead" by consciously going limp, face down on the floor while her Virginia Tech classmates were killed all around her as the gunman visited her classroom in Norris Hall three times and eventually killed himself there.
Having a front row seat to the devastation and pain suffered by so many families and communities inflicted that day by a person who should not have passed a background check, has propelled me head first into the fight to prevent gun violence. I break down still when I allow myself to imagine what almost happened to my daughter . . . . and what so many face every day in this country.
How sad that five years later and after countless additional tragedies - Northern Illinois, Tuscon, Chardon High School, to name a few - and daily carnage that doesn't make the media reports, we are still debating whether we need background checks on all gun purchasers. How can a civilized society with the technological means to easily implement background checks on all public firearms transactions continue to ignore the day to day killings, the multiple and mass shootings that add up to more than 30,000 annual gun deaths.
While I am often met with disbelief and resistance when I suggest that the gun lobby's goal is an armed society - any gun, anywhere, to any one, after the Trayvon Martin shooting many are now becoming aware that this is in fact the gun lobby's goal. Consider:
Alarmingly, "Shoot First" laws seemingly allow a person to chase down a target (a young black man perhaps?), engage them in a confrontation (verbal only perhaps?), shoot them dead, and then claim self defense because they somehow felt threatened! "Shoot First" legislation completely removes the long-standing premise of a duty to retreat in public places.
Of note, it has been reported that the number of "justifiable homicides" has increased at least three-fold in states like Florida that have these new laws, while the majority of people using these laws as a defense in court have been shown to be criminals themselves.
To the dismay of progressives across the Commonwealth, the 2011 state elections eliminated the safety net Democrats in the Senate had been able to provide, not only to those of us advocating for gun violence prevention, but on so many other social issues as well. The idea of state government totally in the control of Republicans rightly gave progressives the chills.
This concern was not, as it turns out, unwarranted at all, as the dire predictions made on this blog and in other forums have unfortunately materialized. The consequences of the Republican takeover have been devastating for many Virginians. And, true to what happened on other social issues, Republican legislators sponsored numerous bills -- 43 to be exact -- to loosen Virginia's already weak gun laws, and the gun lobby gleefully anticipated easy passage.
At the top of the list for the gun lobby were four priorities: removing the ability of public colleges and universities to regulate the possession of guns on their campuses; dismantling the State Police's state-of-the-art background check system; repealing the one-handgun-a-month law; and enacting so-called "castle doctrine" legislation to immunize shooters from criminal and civil liability for their actions.
We all know that the gun lobby did get one of its wishes, but only with the help of Democrats Creigh Deeds and John Edwards. The repeal of the one-handgun-a-month law passed, but not before giving Governor McDonnell a lot of heartache and bad press. In a surprise development, however, the other priority bills, as well as most of the other bills sponsored by the gun lobby, were defeated or even pulled by their sponsors.
SB757 (Roscoe Reynolds): a bill that prevents localities from regulating powerful pneumatic weapons on private property, is on the floor of the Virginia Senate. Pneumatic weapons are BB guns on steroids capable of discharging projectiles that are similar in size to small .22 rifles and handguns at rapid speeds. Heavily populated localities have been allowed to regulate the use of such weapons but Reynolds' bill would take that authority away on private property. Just like regulating the discharge of regular (gunpowder operated) firearms in heavily populated areas in more urbanized counties and cities have different needs than more rural counties.
We understandably don't want citizens shooting these weapons in small backyards where neighborhood children could be just a few feet away in an adjacent yard. A representative from local government and Andrew Goddard, President of the Virginia Center for Public Safety testified against the bill in Committee, but it passed out on a 9-6 vote.
Pneumatic guns can have fire power similar to small caliber firearms - these are not your 12 yr old's toy air gun. And now, the Senate is actually considering allowing these to be fired in your next door neighbor's back yard!!
SB757 is up for second reading on Monday, 1/31
PLEASE, for safety's sake, particularly our children & pets, contact your senator IMMEDIATELY and ask them to vote NO on SB757.
Allowing the open carry of any legal firearm in our state parks and forests is true to form for our Republican Governor, especially one that counted a highly placed NRA executive on his transition team. But, lifting this ban only adds to our state's reputation as "gun crazy". We allow firearms, including the many assault weapons openly carried onto the capitol grounds and into the GAB this past Monday to be carried in too many public places. Public safety notwithstanding, our state's tourism dollars could be affected - who wants to take their family camping next to the guy swaggering around the park with his AK-47 boldly strapped to his side.
Can you tell me what the good guy or the bad guy looks like? Should we just ask all good guys to wear yellow hats and all the bad guys to wear red hats, as my friend sarcastically remarked?
It is already legal to carry concealed handguns in both state parks and forests, should someone feel the need to protect themselves. While the permitting process to carry concealed in Virginia is a joke (an online test with no hands-on training), it at least requires a background check and the weapon would be limited to a handgun.
Virginia continues its slide down a very slippery, steep slope to becoming a state where anyone is allowed to carry any firearm everywhere. We are beginning to look more and more like the "armed society" the gun lobby is striving for.