Building safer communities has been and continues to be a top legislative priority for the Virginia Senate Democratic Caucus.
One significant issue that comes up time and time again when we talk about keeping our communities safe is that of gun violence prevention.
These days, any time you turn on the news there is another horrific shooting being reported on somewhere in the United States.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the firearm homicide rate increased by 59 percent between 2012 and 2016.
A 2015 report conducted by the CDC states that 74 percent of homicides in Virginia are committed with firearms. Meanwhile, the Gun Violence Archive shows that there have already been more than 600 reported gun-related incidents in Virginia in 2018.
Enacting responsible gun laws is an obvious way that we can work to keep our communities safe.
And yet, during the 2018 General Assembly session, all but one of the bills attempting to curb the alarming trends in gun violence that we are observing nationwide failed to make it to the Senate floor.
Commonsense measures such as universal background checks on firearm purchases, reporting requirements for lost or stolen firearms, limitations on carrying a firearm while under the influence of alcohol, and a ban on bump stocks in the aftermath of last year’s horrific shooting in Las Vegas all were killed on either a party-line or near-party-line vote.
Just last month, a fatal shooting took place outside Kelly’s Tavern in Virginia Beach after an alcohol-fueled altercation. A fellow Virginian would still be alive today if only some of these commonsense proposals had been passed and signed into law. This is just one example.
According to an April 2017 Quinnipiac Poll, 94 percent of Virginians are in support of universal background checks. Interestingly, when it’s broken down by party affiliation, 90 percent of Republicans are in support.
Contrary to popular belief, gun control is not a partisan issue.
Meanwhile, every year an army of gun rights activists and registered lobbyists descends on the General Assembly to voice their disapproval for every single piece of gun safety legislation we put forward.
But according to that same Quinnipiac poll, 49 percent of Virginians feel that it is too easy to buy a gun in Virginia, while only 2 percent say it’s too difficult.
Sixty-six percent of respondents believe that new gun laws will not interfere with Virginians’ right to own a gun.
More than half of the respondents feel that Virginia would be less safe if more people carried guns.
All of this points to one simple truth: Gun industry lobbyists are out of touch with Virginians.
Adding fuel to the fire, British satirist Sacha Baron Cohen recently unveiled a new venture, a series entitled “Who Is America?” featuring a prominent Virginia-based gun rights lobbyist who unwittingly took part in a video teaching young children how to manipulate firearms.
Children as young as 3 years were encouraged to point a “gunimal” — shown as a stuffed toy with a gun protruding from the mouth — at “the naughty men” to put them “in a very long timeout.”
Incidentally, CDC data also indicates that there were no fewer than 318 child firearm deaths in Virginia from 2007 to 2016 inclusive.
The series exposes a culture that simply does not align with the mainstream views of an overwhelming majority of Virginians — or with our collective best interests.
This culture of defending irresponsible gun usage is at odds with our mission of building safer communities and, quite frankly, it defies common sense.
When the argument that bump stocks are “fun to shoot” outweighs the safety of our children, we are doing a disservice to our constituents and to our commonwealth.
The gun lobby is out of touch, and so are my Republican colleagues who vote with them.