Despite ceaseless slayings, Virginians keep combating gun violence

They don’t always garner news coverage, but many community leaders and police officials are fighting relentlessly to protect others, no matter the enormity of the task.

May 4, 2023 12:06 am

Panelists speak at Stop the Shots: Impacts of Gun Violence on Communities of Color gun violence forum at Norfolk State University, April 18, 2023. (Norfolk State University/Flickr)

It’s difficult to maintain hope that we can reduce gun violence when so many shootings – from the spraying of bullets at a Sweet Sixteen party in Alabama, to a senseless execution of family members in Texas, to the sentencing in the slayings of a Fairfax County couple – suggest the opposite.

So it’s essential to know the forces of goodwill and sanity have not surrendered. They don’t always garner news coverage, but many community leaders and police officials are fighting relentlessly to protect others, no matter the enormity of the task.

More than 44,300 people died in gun-related incidents last year across the country. More than half were suicides, but homicides were a substantial number.You can see the sober search for solutions in forums like the one I attended a few weeks ago at Norfolk State University.

“Stop the Shots: Impacts of Gun Violence on Communities of Color” featured discourse among police supervisors, college professors and others. They conceded the ongoing problems but also suggested different strategies to fight back, including strengthening families and confronting the fact that crime suspects are getting younger.

“It’s on us” to alter conditions, said Kayla Hicks, CEO and founder of Sustain Equity Group, a Newport News nonprofit organization dedicated to improving conditions for Black women.

Hicks, a former official with the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence, urged the 100 people in attendance to support each other and police officers. The latter isn’t always a popular sentiment, especially since the killing of George Floyd in 2020.

You can see the efforts to prevent crimes and recidivism in how public money is allocated. U.S. Rep. Bobby Scott, a Democrat, on Tuesday ceremoniously awarded $760,000 in federal funding to the city of Newport News for programs to reduce gun violence and other crimes.

The money, appropriated by Congress last year, includes help for prisoner re-entry programs and aid for victims and witnesses of crime. Congress awarded $4.6 million to a similar program in Hampton.

Speaking about prevention, Scott noted: “Efforts will be made to make sure people coming out of prison can get on the right track and stay on the right track. It costs a little money, but it’s worth it,” WAVY 10 reported.

I learned about Antipas Harris last year, when he organized a Virginia Symphony Orchestra concert to comfort the families of gun violence victims. Harris recently asked Del. Angelia Williams Graves, D-Norfolk, to submit a $800,000 request in the state budget to support a hospital-based violence intervention program.

Harris envisioned his group, the Urban Renewal Center, partnering with Sentara Norfolk General Hospital to expand Sentara’s current program that helps people traumatized by violence. Harris said hospital officials note many people killed in gun violence had been shot previously.

Graves said Harris has put in the work to assist Hampton Roads, and those efforts made it easy for her to shepherd the request. “He’s done a lot of different things in the community,” Graves said. The money is currently stuck in General Assembly budget negotiations.

Some efforts fail, however.

Del. Cliff Hayes, D-Chesapeake, sponsored legislation this year to start a 72-hour waiting period before buying firearms. Hayes told me a relative of a victim killed in the Chesapeake Walmart shootings last fall – when a manager there killed six colleagues and wounded others before taking his own life – suggested such a measure might have prevented those mass slayings. Authorities said the manager-turned-mass shooter Andre Bing legally bought the handgun the same day as the Nov. 22 attack.

The Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence supports waiting periods because they can “cool off” impulsive acts of homicides and suicides. It cites a 2019 study showing 85% of non-gun owners and 72% of gun owners support mandatory waiting periods for firearm purchases.

Hayes’ bill, though, died in a House subcommittee this session. Republicans, who tend to be pro-gun rights, hold the majority in the state House.

“It doesn’t make any sense,” Hayes lamented. “We can’t go to the ballpark without a threat, can’t go to the store without a threat, can’t go to a prayer meeting at church without a threat.”

When you browse through news reports around Virginia, it’s depressingly easy to uncover examples of gun violence. The Washington Post reported last week on the sentencing of Ronnie Marshall, 22, in the 2021 murders of a husband and wife in front of their Fairfax County home.

Prosecutors said Marshall was looking for the son of Edward and Brenda McDaniel, thinking the younger McDaniel was part of a group that had taken a gun from him.

The slain husband and wife were both medical professionals and had served in the Army. They’re gone, and Marshall will now serve a life sentence.

During the NSU gun violence forum, one attendee’s comments were especially striking. “The elephant in the room,” he said, “is we are devaluing one another.”

That’s at the heart of a lot of carnage. It’s been the case for decades.

Guns are a part of the madness. But so too is the overwhelming willingness to use them, no matter how trivial the perceived grievance.

Activists – really, all of us – must attack on both fronts: We have too many guns. And collectively, we have no hesitation about using them.

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Roger Chesley
Roger Chesley

Longtime columnist and editorial writer Roger Chesley worked at the (Newport News) Daily Press and The (Norfolk) Virginian-Pilot from 1997 through 2018. He previously worked at newspapers in Cherry Hill, N.J., and Detroit. Reach him at [email protected]