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Coalition to Stop Gun Violence MLK Day event includes calls for gun, criminal justice reforms

virginia state capitol
(© SeanPavonePhoto –

The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence and Virginia Center for Public Safety gathered today for an online vigil to honor the memory and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr.

Following the vigil, the groups provided a legislative update on current Virginia General Assembly bills pertinent to gun violence prevention efforts.

A recording of both is available online.

“Today, we honor the memory of a political leader who organized and spoke out for racial justice, and fell victim to gun violence at the hands of white supremacists,” said Josh Horwitz, executive director of CSGV and the Ed Fund. “We are once again witnessing a rise in the use of violence and armed intimidation, not only to silence marginalized communities, but also in an attempt to undermine our democratic process.

“Helping to end the threat that unregulated firearms poses to all of us — as people, as communities and as a country — is at the heart of what we do. The world lost a shining light when Dr. King was murdered, but his work carries on. We are proud and honored to stand with gun violence prevention advocates across the country in the fight for a safe, fair and just America.”

Gov. Ralph Northam discussed the importance of common-sense gun violence reform during today’s vigil.

“I served in the military, and I know all too well what assault weapons do to human beings. … We still have a lot of work to do, especially when we talk about assault weapons. There is no need for anybody to have an assault weapon on the streets of Virginia or in this country. There is no need to have open carry of assault weapons. It’s all about intimidation,” Northam said.

Attorney General Mark Herring joined the vigil, talking about his top priorities in the coming General Assembly session, and stressed that the gun lobby “didn’t just go away.”

“One thing they did do was go to court, and over the past year, my team and I have been busy defending these new laws from legal challenges in court,” Herring said. “I am committed to continuing to defend these gun violence prevention measures successfully in court and keeping Virginians and their families safe. This year, I’m also working hard to get legislation passed that will add open carry of firearms to the list of prohibited activities at polls.”

The day also included an overview of bills CSGV is following in the 2021 General Assembly session. CSGV is supporting legislation that addresses the root causes of gun violence including building trust among impacted communities and law enforcement.

“Virginia loses on average 1,000 lives a year due to senseless gun violence,” said Lori Haas, Virginia state director at CSGV and Ed Fund, and whose daughter was shot in the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting. “Gun violence is an epidemic here in the Commonwealth and across the nation, which we must work to end through common-sense firearm laws that protect people and save lives. Virginia made incredible strides in 2020, and with armed insurrectionism and intimidation at a terrifying peak nationwide right now, it’s critical that we raise our voices to speak up for a safer state and country.”

Among the bills CSGV is tracking are those that would:

  • prohibit guns at polling places, on the capitol grounds and in state buildings in order to protect our right to vote, legislate and assemble without the threat of armed intimidation.
  • prohibit firearm possession by those convicted of domestic violence misdemeanors.
  • ban the possession of ghost guns, or untraceable firearms.
  • encourage more  police accountability by allowing citizens to bring civil action for certain police behaviors.
  • repeal mandatory minimum sentences.
  • provide a path to automatic restoration of civil rights for returning citizens.
  • through a clean slate bill, allow persons to apply for jobs, housing, etc. without fear that a prior conviction will negatively impact their opportunities.

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