By Susan Laume:
On the eve of a special state legislative session on gun violence, a roundtable in Leesburg hosted by state Sen. Jennifer Boysko (D- 33) on July 7 revealed the deep divide among the public on this critical issue – and the high personal cost of unrestricted gun use.
Boysko hosted the event at the Rust Library to gather opinion from local residents in advance of the July 9 start of a special legislative session in Richmond called by Gov. Ralph Northam to consider measures to curb gun violence. The event, attended by about 50 persons, was marked by several moving stories and statements from those who feel at risk from gun violence.
But overall, the audience of about 50 seemed evenly mixed between gun control advocates and 2nd Amendment rights proponents who opposed any change in existing laws.
Joining Boysko in the roundtable were state Dels. Kathleen Murphy (D-34), Wendy Gooditis (D-10) and David Reid (D-32), as well as members of Moms Demand Action; Moms Rising; faith group representatives, and high school students from Students Demand Action. Del. Dave LaRock (R-33) was invited to participate at the roundtable, but chose to attend as an audience member.
At the start of the meeting, Boysko called for open, respectful and thoughtful participation, and the tone of the meeting did remain civil although the rift in sentiment among the audience was palpable.
Several high school students spoke passionately about the need for reform. Ben Bressette, a high school student with Students Demand Action, said, “We’ve grown up with violence in my generation. We need evidence based policy solutions. After Virginia Beach we’re posed to implement tangible solutions.”
Lane Thimmesch, also of Students Demand Action, said, “My friends and I strategize all the time about what to do if we’re in the bathroom [when something happens]. Then last December, there was a lockdown. Fifty kids were in a closet hiding. I was terrified. I shouldn’t have to live in fear. Not thoughts and prayers — votes and change.”
Topics discussed included:
- Banning assault weapons. Proponents expressed concern about their use in mass shootings, while others were skeptical, questioning the definition of an “assault” weapon, and claiming the term is misunderstood by lawmakers and those without a military background.
- Confiscating guns in cases of domestic violence. Some expressed support, while opponents claimed the Constitution protected against confiscation in all situations. One person felt it fell to personal responsibility to leave the situation if threatened by gun violence in a relationship, rather than to require laws to provide protection.
- “Red flag” bills. To illustrate the principle of removing guns from those at extreme risk of injury to themselves or others, Del. Gooditis told the story of a suicidal brother who could have been protected from himself. But opponents were unmoved, citing obstruction of citizen’s rights and inability to face one’s accuser.
- Gun possession regulations. Another personal story of gun violence tragedy came from Del. Kathleen Murphy, who said her brother’s death could have been averted by safe gun storage. An audience member suggested treating guns like cars– with registration, licensing, age restrictions, and required training and testing for ownership and use. Universal background checks were also proposed. But many in the audience were adamant in opposing any additional restriction on gun purchase and possession.
Several speakers noted the positive impact of gun laws on suicide and other gun deaths. In fact, Giffords Law Center statistics indicate fewer people die from gun violence in states with strong gun laws. The organization ranks Virginia 22 of 50 states on gun law strength and 32 of 50 States for gun deaths, with 11.9 gun deaths per 100,000 population. Overall, Virginia gets a D ranking from this non-profit activist group.
In light of these facts, and the personal testimonies delivered at the event, several speakers called upon those who opposed the measures under discussion to propose others that would protect their rights but deter the gun violence. The call went unanswered.
Photo: State Sen. Jennifer Boysko hosted roundtable with (L-R) Dels. Wendy Gooditis, Kathleen Murphy and David Reid also participating/ Photo by Susan Laume