House Democrats unveil gun safety proposals in Safe Virginia Initiative report
The Safe Virginia Initiative, organized by House Democrats, released their report and policy recommendations on gun safety in a press conference on Monday.
Co-chaired by the new Democratic Leader Eileen Filler-Corn and Gun Violence Prevention Caucus co-founder Delegate Kathleen Murphy, the initiative was formed in the 2018 General Assembly session after 17 students and staff were murdered in the tragic school shooting in Parkland, Florida. The February massacre hit close to home in the Commonwealth, 11 years after a gunman took the lives of 32 people at Virginia Tech in the deadliest mass school shooting in U.S. history.
Recognizing, however, that the epidemic of gun violence in Virginia stretches far beyond mass shootings, the Safe Virginia Initiative appointed regional chairs to address issues across the Commonwealth: Del. Chris Hurst in Southwest, Del. Cliff Hayes in Hampton Roads, Del. Delores McQuinn in Metro Richmond, and Del. John Bell in Northern Virginia.
Together, the SVI chairs held six town halls to hear community concerns and suggestions on gun violence issues including suicide, urban violence, domestic abuse, violence against faith groups, and school safety. Each town hall featured a panel of students, school administrators, law enforcement, legal experts, advocates, and/or survivors.
“Not all acts of gun violence make the headlines, but each one is no less tragic than any other,” said Del. Kathleen Murphy in a statement. “Just last year in the City of Richmond, we lost 53 people in shootings, and in Southwest, we see the highest rates of gun suicide in a state that already has higher rates than the national average. This epidemic is far more extensive than many people realize. Our Governor is also doing extraordinary work on this issue, and we believe the Safe Virginia Initiative’s report will bolster our collective efforts.”
Del. Delores McQuinn highlighted the pervasiveness of gun violence in her two events that focused on urban communities and youth.
“For many kids in our communities, shootings are an all too familiar part of their lives. When the violence happens in their neighborhoods rather than their schools, it is often ignored, but we are still talking about young people who deserve opportunity, who deserve to live.”
Del. Chris Hurst’s event in Lexington focused on gun suicides and the need for an extreme risk protective order that would allow law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from a person deemed to pose a risk to themselves or others. He noted that suicide is the leading cause of gun-related deaths in Virginia, and the majority of suicides are completed with a firearm. He added, “We have to get people with suicidal thoughts into mental health treatment, but those who have access to a firearm often don’t get the chance.”
Hosted at the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) Center, Del. John Bell’s event brought together faith leaders across religions and denominations to discuss the role that faith groups can play in making their communities safer, as well as the risks they face.
“As a veteran who has served in combat zones with firearms, I understand how trained professionals can make a situation safer by carrying firearms. However, in Virginia you can get a concealed carry permit by taking an online quiz. We have to implement practical training requirements to ensure that gunowners know how to use their weapons safely.”
At Del. Cliff Hayes’s Chesapeake town hall, students and school administrators shared personal stories of student mental heath issues and gun threats, including suicidal thoughts. Delegate Hayes summarized, “Virginia’s lax child access prevention laws put too many young people at risk. Legislation like stronger safe storage requirements is a common-sense way to prevent unnecessary gun violence.”
Domestic abuse survivors and law enforcement officers emphasized the magnitude and frequency of gun-related domestic violence at the town hall co-hosted by Delegate Filler-Corn and the George Mason University undergraduate think tank Roosevelt @ Mason. Moderated by Mark Rozell, Dean of the Schar School of Government and Policy, the panel discussed the sobering reality that women are five times more likely to die from domestic violence if their abuser has access to a firearm.
Del. Eileen Filler-Corn concluded, “Gun violence affects communities across the Commonwealth, regardless of race, geography, age, income level, or political affiliation. We convened these town halls to listen to stories, concerns, and suggestions from a diversity of perspectives, and overwhelmingly, we heard widespread support across all demographics for meaningful gun reform. Our resulting policy recommendations are common-sense proposals to make Virginia safer.”
Safe Virginia Initiative’s policy recommendations include:
- Prevent suicides by creating an Extreme Risk Protective Order.
- Require the reporting of lost or stolen firearms.
- Reinstate the “one handgun a month” law.
- Improve the safety of survivors of domestic violence by creating an effective firearm removal mechanism for abusers under permanent protective orders, and extending the firearm possession ban to accused abusers under preliminary protective orders.
- Require universal background checks.
- Repeal the law that allows video training for concealed handgun permits, and require a practical training component.
- Increase the safety of children by enacting child access prevention (CAP) laws and access to guns by high school students, as well as strengthening safe storage laws.