In the wake of the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting and the morning following President Obama’s announcement of new public safety measures to stem gun violence, House and Senate Democrats held a public safety press conference in the House Briefing Room on Friday.
State Sens. Donald McEachin, Mark Herring and Ralph Northam and Dels. Delores McQuinn, Joe Morrissey and Alfonso Lopez outlined package of legislation to address mental health care services, improve school safety, limit high capacity magazines, and institute universal background checks. Lori Haas, mother of a Virginia Tech massacre survivor, spoke from her perspective as a family member of someone who survived gun violence.
Herring and Northam spoke about the need to improve mental health care services.
Herring (D-Loudoun) said, “This is about keeping the public safe and making sure parents all across the Commonwealth don’t have to be nervous to send their kids to school. We need to come together and work to ensure that those who may be dangerous or those that need help aren’t slipping through the cracks. That’s why I strongly support increasing funding for mental health, and promoting greater cooperation between schools and our mental health system.”
Northam (D-Norfolk) said, “Progress has been made, but we still have a long ways to go. We have to help make sure the mentally ill get the help they need. Now, determining who needs help requires a trained professional, so as we move forward we need to provide the proper funding for mental illness. It’s been too long since the tragedy at Virginia Tech, and not enough has been done since. So we all need to work together. And the bottom line is that we need to make gun violence a priority, provide the resources it will take to stop this violence.”
McQuinn (D-Richmond) presented legislation on improving school safety. “As elected officials, we all have a solemn obligation to protect the safety of all Virginia citizens, especially our children,” said McQuinn. “We must work together to ensure that all of our schools, in every community and every neighborhood, are a sanctuary of learning, innovation and exploration, free from the fear and threat of violence. Our children deserve nothing less.”
Lopez (D-Arlington) spoke on his legislation to ban high capacity military grade magazines. “High capacity magazines have one purpose – and one purpose only: To kill humans. High capacity ammo magazines are responsible for a far too high percentage of law enforcement officers killed in the line of duty,” said Lopez. “I believe that banning high capacity magazines is a basic, common-sense public safety measure. Moreover, I believe this is the right thing to do for our communities and our citizens.”
Sen. McEachin concluded the speaking section by discussing his legislation to implement universal background checks on gun sales.
McEachin (D-Henrico) said, “I’m appalled that 40% of gun sales take place without a background check. By fixing background checks, we can make sure guns don’t wind up in the hands of terrorists, felons or the mentally ill. Background checks aren’t burdensome — most take less than 2 minutes, and 90% take less than 2 hours. Mandatory background checks are popular — among Democrats and Republicans, even among NRA members. Universal background checks are a law-enforcement necessity.”