Virginia policymakers must act to stop gun violence
No more thoughts and prayers. It’s time for votes and laws.
Earlier this summer, 12 people were shot and killed by their coworker in a Virginia Beach municipal building. This act of senseless violence had a traumatic ripple effect on the entire community. Parents, partners, friends, and neighbors received news that their loved ones would not be coming home.
As I watched the news, my heart ached for the community and the families of those killed. I know what it is like for gun violence to touch your life out of nowhere — because 12 years ago, it happened to my family.
On April 16, 2007, I got a call that every parent in America has come to dread, but no one expects. It was my 19-year-old daughter Emily, calling from outside her classroom at Virginia Tech: “Hi, Mommy. I’ve been shot.”
I remember feeling helpless, panicked. A flurry of thoughts and emotions rushed through my mind. How could this have happened? Was my daughter going to be okay? What about the parents whose children did not survive? What were they going through?
And loudest of all: What on earth are we going to do now?
Our family was lucky — Emily survived her injuries. But for 32 others, their futures were violently cut short that day. They were shot and killed.
The Virginia Tech massacre reoriented my family’s entire lives. We had no playbook for processing our experience. But one thing was clear: We could no longer ignore gun violence in Virginia or in our country. I decided to dedicate my life to stopping gun violence.
The more research I did, the more I learned how easy Virginia’s gun laws made it for someone like the Virginia Tech shooter or any other person at elevated risk of violence to gain access to firearms. I learned about Virginia’s firearm suicide epidemic. I learned about the disproportionate impact gun violence has on communities of color. Yet despite the daily toll of gun violence in Virginia, our leaders have refused to take meaningful action to prevent further atrocities, especially those that happen every single day across the Commonwealth.
My story is all too familiar to many parents. Our country’s families have suffered immeasurable trauma and grief because of gun violence. Now we have the chance to forge a new path.
Tomorrow, the Virginia legislature will convene for a special session to consider a slate of proposals related to gun violence prevention. This is a decisive moment for Virginia, as we choose whether to channel our collective pain toward producing real change. We call on our elected officials to seize the moment and support commonsense, data-driven measures.
Policymakers, we want you to pass universal background checks. Background checks are the foundation for all other gun violence prevention measures, and Americans overwhelmingly agree that these checks are a good idea. Yet loopholes in current law abound, from gun shows to private sales. Passing background checks is absolutely crucial to ensuring Virginians’ safety, and it is long past time to make it happen.
Policymakers, we want you to pass extreme risk laws. These laws allow family members and law enforcement officials to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from individuals behaving dangerously. These laws have been passed in 17 states and the District of Columbia, giving loved ones the tools they need to protect individuals they know to be at risk of harming themselves or others. Extreme risk laws have saved lives in other states — and passing one could save lives in Virginia.
Policymakers, we want you to pass legislation to disarm domestic abusers. Guns make domestic violence fatal. Victims and survivors deserve to be protected from armed abusers.
Policymakers, we want you to ban the most dangerous weapons from our streets. Semi-automatic assault rifles, high-capacity magazines, suppressors, and bump-stocks all have one thing in common: they amplify the damage a single shooter can inflict. These are weapons of war. They have no place in our communities.
This list is not exhaustive. There are plenty of additional policies that would help make the Commonwealth of Virginia a safer place to live, work, and grow up — especially for those disproportionately impacted by gun violence. But these areas are a good place to start.
Virginia cannot afford inaction. We have already lost too many of our citizens to gun violence. This issue touches every Virginian and every American. Virginia’s leaders have a responsibility to act, and tomorrow, the nation will be watching. It is time to do the right thing. It is time to stop gun violence.
Lori Haas is the Virginia State Director at the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence