Walker Vigil

Candles were lit during a February 2017 vigil for Shaquenda and Deborah Walker, a Richmond mother and daughter who were shot and killed by Shaquenda’s boyfriend before he killed himself. A recent analysis of FBI data showed offenders of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking accounted for 54% of all mass shooters.

By Jonathan Yglesias and Ruth Micklem

Sanctuary means a place of safety — away from harm.

Since the November elections in which both chambers of the Virginia General Assembly were flipped to Democratic control, the question facing many Virginia communities has been this: Are Virginians harmed by laws that would limit gun access to those who face mental health crises, commit intimate partner violence or threaten to commit serious acts of violence against self or others?

The recent frenzy of gun enthusiasts, including the Virginia Citizens Defense League, National Rifle Association and even some members of our General Assembly, have been lobbying local boards of supervisors and city councils to create what is being called “Second Amendment sanctuary cities.”

In a few localities, sheriffs have sworn their allegiance to not enforce laws that would restrict gun access to high-risk individuals — not only putting officers in violation of their sworn responsibilities but also in collusion with violent offenders and perpetrators of intimate partner and domestic violence.

Sexual and domestic violence advocates across Virginia can’t help but wonder whether it is actually the victims of gun violence and of gun violence threats — who, according the data, are also overwhelmingly victims of sexual and domestic violence — who are indeed the ones in need of safety and sanctuary.

Most intimate partner homicides in Virginia are committed with the use of a firearm. According to data from the Virginia Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, more than one-third of homicides in Virginia are related to domestic violence and in 2015, 65% of all intimate partner homicides were committed with the use of a firearm. What’s more, in 22% of these cases, a child was exposed to the fatal event.

Firearms are frequently used in non-fatal domestic violence as well.

A study by the Harvard School of Public Health concluded that “hostile gun displays against family members are more common than gun use in self-defense, and that these are acts of domestic violence directed against victims.”

Furthermore, the connections between intimate partner violence and increased risk for perpetrating mass gun violence is clear.

According to a recent analysis of FBI data on mass shootings in the U.S. that occurred between 2009 and 2017, offenders of domestic violence, sexual assault and stalking accounted for 54% of all mass shooters.

Recognizing these connections between domestic violence and mass shootings has prompted many states to require judges issuing permanent protective orders to communicate affirmatively to offenders that if they possess any firearms, they are in violation of federal law and required to relinquish access to for the term of the order.

To this end, many states have also adopted certification practices in courts and surrender protocol with law enforcement that require the offender to certify in writing that they will not possess firearms for the term of the order and provide them with the option to surrender these to law enforcement. Perhaps it is time for Virginia to adopt similar practices.

Given the above data, the question remains, who really is in need of sanctuary? Is it possible that the movement to create “Second Amendment sanctuary cities” is a ruse to take the attention away from those victims in our communities who have been without sanctuary for far too long?

As Virginia’s leading voice on sexual and domestic violence, the Action Alliance urges boards of supervisors and city councils to step up and ensure sanctuary to those who have suffered at the hands of offenders and those who misuse firearms to intimidate and harm.

Responsible gun owners are at no risk of losing their guns. As sexual and domestic violence advocates who have sat with the trauma of families, children, and survivors of intimate partner violence and who have seen far too many of our clients fail to escape before it’s too late, we believe that if you batter or abuse, losing your right to a firearm is a measure that not only ensures victim safety but community safety as well.

It’s pretty simple: Guns and domestic violence are a lethal combination.

While we believe that a majority of gun owners are responsible, law-abiding citizens, for those who are violent offenders, guns can be powerful killing machines.

Given this fact, not everybody should be able to freely possess them, and law enforcement officers should enforce our laws that serve and protect the most vulnerable — and in this case, it’s not gun owners, it’s victims of crime.

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Jonathan Yglesias is the policy director at the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance. Contact him at: jyglesias@vsdvalliance.org

Ruth Micklem is the community initiatives manager at the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance. Contact her at: rmicklem@vsdvalliance.org

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