Men walk down Main Street with firearms during a pro-gun rally in Richmond on Monday, Jan. 18, 2021. A sign warns that guns are banned at demonstrations. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

By John Crimmins 

Lately, Second Amendment extremists who think they have the freedom to own and carry guns wherever they want — including while storming the United States Capitol — have been in the spotlight.

Pictures of armed militias are attention-grabbing and frightening, but these individuals don’t speak for the majority of Virginians. These extremists talk a lot about the Second Amendment right. One thing you won’t hear them talking about? Responsibility.

These extremists are fixated on using a gun to protect themselves but rarely spare a thought for the individuals who may be killed, injured, or threatened with these guns.

I know from my experience in law enforcement that the impact of a shooting lingers long after the crime scene is cleared. Shootings ripple outwards, affecting the victim’s family, community and the police officers themselves, often leaving lasting trauma in their wake.

That’s why I believe in gun safety laws, in Virginia and in the rest of the country. Law enforcement officers understand the devastating impact of gun violence better than most, and many of us are standing up and demanding that legislators take action to save lives from gun violence.

I was proud to see my state’s lawmakers step up to be leaders last year, passing laws to protect our communities. We took a big leap forward: Virginia passed an extreme risk protection order law and expanded background checks, among a number of other things.

This progress happened because Virginians were fed up with cowardly politicians afraid of upsetting the gun lobby and its supporters. For the first time, candidates running for the state house and senate vowed to take action on gun safety. This never would have happened without the courage of survivors like Kate Loring.

I was assigned to investigate the horrific murder of Kate’s daughter, Claire. Claire was a person going places, a talented musician on her way to graduating with honors from Old Dominion University when an ex-boyfriend stalked, shot, and killed her. I’ll never forget the pain that Kate carried with her every day because of her daughter’s murder.

Kate has expressed her support for stronger gun laws, writing in a post alongside another Virginian who lost a child to gun violence, “when a problem as rampant as gun violence has touched you personally, it is particularly mind-boggling that so many politicians resort to the fallacy that gun safety laws are attempts to infringe upon the 2nd Amendment.”

Stronger gun laws aren’t controversial—they’re common sense. Virginia lawmakers took decisive action to save lives last year, and they’re on the verge of doing so again. We can’t let our foot off the gas. This year Virginia legislators are fighting to strengthen domestic violence protections, regulate open carry of firearms at the polls and the Capitol, along with prohibiting ghost guns.

Those policies can save lives and prevent intimidation in our democracy—and they’re more relevant now than ever. The horror of the Jan. 6 insurrection could have been so much worse if there were more guns at the Capitol.

Virginia’s future will remain bright if legislators preserve the progress made in 2020 and expand on this progress in 2021. A happy, healthy, and safe Commonwealth is one without the weight of gun violence hanging over all of our heads.

There’s been enough tragedy, enough suffering. Those who use guns to injure and intimidate others have gotten their way for long enough. Communities like Virginia Beach, disproportionately impacted neighborhoods across the state, and families like the Lorings shouldn’t continue to bear the devastating consequences of political greed and cowardice.

Let’s be responsible. Let’s do the right thing. Let’s pass gun safety laws.

John Crimmins of Chesapeake is a Second Amendment supporter and a retired Chesapeake police officer.