Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., and Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney were among officials who met activists, police and community leaders in Richmond on Monday morning to discuss gun violence ahead of a July 9 special session of the Virginia General Assembly.
While Democratic Party officials called for legislative action, some gun rights proponents showed up to counter them, and members of the community offered a variety of ideas on how to reduce gun violence and fatal shootings.
“The question I have to the General Assembly is how many more is it going to take?” Stoney said during the discussion at New Life Deliverance Tabernacle in Richmond’s Manchester neighborhood. “How many more lives is it going to take?”
Kaine held a similar forum recently in Charlottesville and was traveling to Fredericksburg on Monday afternoon for another.
Markiya Simone Dickson, 9, was killed in crossfire in a shooting in South Richmond’s Carter Jones Park in late May; an 11-year-old boy was injured. Police are searching for those responsible.
Mark Whitfield, Markiya’s father, attended the forum with her mother and said there’s only so much the police or government can do to stop gun violence.
“You can’t talk about guns without talking about drugs,” said Whitfield, who said he had several friends become addicted to drugs.
“It all starts at home.”
Pastor Robert A. Winfrey, whose church hosted the forum, also said the problem of gun violence is wrapped up in other problems.
“We have a lot of parents that don’t know how to be parents,” he said, and suggested many people need “life coaches” to get them on the right path.
Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, called for the special session on June 4 following the May 31 shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Center in which a gunman killed 12.
The legislation the governor wants considered isn’t new, but is usually taken up — and stopped — in legislative sessions with many other issues on the table, said Brian Moran, the state’s secretary of public safety and homeland security.
The package Northam wants considered includes restoration of a state law that limits handgun purchases to one per month, a ban on silencers, and a bill that would allow for no more than 10 rounds in a magazine.
Moran said the bills should be put to a vote of all lawmakers in the state House and Senate.
“They’re all up for election this November,” he said. “Let’s see how each and every one of them stands on these issues.”
Parker Slaybaugh, a spokesman for House Speaker Kirk Cox, R-Colonial Heights, indicated Monday that the bills are unlikely to go to the floor.
“The Speaker has said that all legislation will go through the appropriate legislative process,” he said in an email. “Governor Northam wants the Speaker to put everything on the floor. Well, we would like for him to sign everything we pass, but that’s not how the process works.”
Gun rights advocates at the forum said they didn’t want any new restrictions on firearms, including an idea proposed to increase the cost of ammunition.
Sheila Furey, a psychiatrist from Chesterfield County, argued that firearms training for women could help them defend against domestic violence. And she said police cannot be trusted to stop mass shootings in schools.
“We should train everyone in our schools to use a gun ... and be competent with a gun,” she said, “because this is how we save our children.”
Kaine, who was governor during the fatal shooting of 32 people at Virginia Tech in 2007, said the proposals for the special session are all consistent with the Second Amendment.
“Are they what the people want, or are they what the legislature wants?” he posed. “We’ll see on July 9.”
There have been 133 shootings in Richmond so far in 2019, a 25% increase from the 106 shootings at this point last year.
In addition to Markiya, 25 people have been slain in the city this year. All but four of those victims were shot.
The total number of homicides is down from this time last year, when 27 people were killed and just one of those victims was killed without a gun.