Let’s honor Virginia Beach with action

June 12, 2019 11:15 pm

A memorial honoring the victims of the May 31 Virginia Beach shooting stands near the Virginia Beach Municipal Center on June 5, 2019 in Virginia Beach. Eleven city employees and one private contractor were shot to death in the Municipal Center Operations building by engineer DeWayne Craddock who had worked for the city for 15 years. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

By Kris Brown

Once again, our state is reeling from the epidemic of gun violence.

Twelve years after 32 people were shot and killed at my alma mater, Virginia Tech. Nine years after eight were shot and killed in Appomattox. Four years after Alison Parker and Adam Ward were shot and killed on camera in Roanoke. Two years after a gunman shot and injured four people, including a U.S. congressman, at a baseball practice in Alexandria.

Now 12 more are dead in Virginia Beach.

Our hearts are with the community of Virginia Beach, where so many of us Virginians have spent time relaxing and enjoying life near the ocean in what feels like a small town. Reading about the lives of each of these victims over the weekend has been heartbreaking. What is worse is knowing the simple truth that it does not have to be this way.

Just this year, a bill introduced in the Virginia General Assembly would have banned sales of large-capacity magazines, just like the one used by the gunman in Virginia Beach. It was rejected. That was one of a host of life-saving bills introduced by gun safety champions year after year that would save lives from gun violence, lives lost in communities across the nation that often do not even make the news. The corrupting influence of the NRA and the gun lobby has stonewalled gun violence prevention bills time and time again.

Expanded background checks on gun sales, supported by more than 90 percent of Americans? Stonewalled. Extreme risk orders that would temporarily remove firearms from people in crisis? Stonewalled. Banning assault weapons, weapons of war that have no business in places of peace? Stonewalled. Removing guns from domestic abusers, keeping guns away from children younger than 4, preventing people from buying more than one gun a month? Stonewalled, stonewalled, stonewalled.

Here is what we know: Virginia has the chance to change this in November, just as voters across America changed things in November of last year by electing a gun-violence prevention majority in the U.S. House of Representatives. That includes right here in Virginia, with the elections of Jennifer Wexton, Abigail Spanberger, and, now representing Virginia Beach, Elaine Luria, all of whom defeated NRA A-rated politicians.

Reps. Wexton, Spanberger, and Luria all delivered on their promises when they voted for federal legislation to expand background checks to private gun sales. They’ve stepped up and supported common sense legislation to keep people safe. Each one of these women represents gun owners, hunters, and veterans, but their constituents know that there is a difference between respecting the Second Amendment and allowing the NRA to block every sensible gun reform law because profits matter more than people.

We still have much to learn about the shooting that took the lives of 12 innocent Virginians. We don’t know what combination of measures might have prevented this shooting. But what we do know is that members of the Virginia legislature have repeatedly blocked legislation for years that would have made a difference. They could have acted after Virginia Tech, after Appomattox, after Roanoke, after Alexandria. Now, they must act after Virginia Beach. It’s time to take action, not sides.

Virginian voters made their voices heard two years ago when they elected gun violence prevention champions across the state. But because of a coin flip, we still have a legislature that doesn’t reflect our needs and our desires. Just as it’s been for years, we still are seeing live-saving bills blocked from even getting a vote. It’s time for that to change. This November, every Virginian voter should focus on what their candidates are saying about gun reform. Do they put profits before people? Do they pocket the gun lobby’s money and look the other way? Do they vote with the NRA over victims of gun violence? This fall, if you want to represent us in Virginia, only gun violence prevention champions need apply.

We hear so often after mass shootings that it’s too early to talk politics. Well, it isn’t too early to talk about the root causes of gun violence. It isn’t too early to honor the victims’ memories with action. It isn’t too early to pass legislation that would keep guns out of dangerous hands and protect our neighbors and our children from gun violence.

And if our elected officials once again fail to act, it won’t be too early to make our voices heard in November.

Kris Brown is president of the national gun violence prevention organization Brady. A lifelong Virginian, she and her daughters live in Arlington.

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