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It’s a shame, but really not surprising, that it took another mass shooting to focus Virginia lawmakers’ attention on gun violence.

In the wake of the May 31 mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal building that left 13 people dead, Gov. Ralph Northam has called a rare summer special session July 9 in hopes of encouraging the General Assembly to focus solely on gun legislation and what – if anything—might be done to keep Virginians safe from gunfire.

Given the hundreds of thousands of guns already in the commonwealth, limiting deaths and injuries by gunfire can seem like an impossible goal. For starters, we have limited information about the extent of the problem in Virginia.

Localities and the state track gun deaths but not gun injuries, for instance, and even the numbers state and local governments do track are not well known. Few people outside of law enforcement, for example, know that Fauquier County had 14 gun-related deaths in 2017, while Prince William County had 21.

The number mostly reflects suicide deaths via gunfire, which are usually not reported in the local media. In fact, about 60 percent of the 1,028 gun deaths in Virginia in 2017 were the result of suicide, according to the state medical examiner’s annual report.

We do know, however, that deaths by gunfire are on the rise. In 2017, the most recent for which statistics are available, showed the highest number of firearm fatalities since 1968, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

There were 39,773 gun deaths in the U.S. in 2017, up by more than 1,000 from the year before. Nearly two-thirds were suicides.

Virginia is a Dillon Rule state, which means localities cannot pass their own gun regulations for the most part. And gun bills that do come before the Virginia General Assembly get little media attention because they are usually doomed from the start.

All are funneled through tiny Republican-controlled House and Senate subcommittees where they are swiftly defeated in party-line votes in 7:30 a.m. meetings, mostly attended only by the legislators themselves and a few gun industry lobbyists. State Del. John Bell, D-87th, recently called these lobbyists “the most powerful people in the room.”

From our perspective, the mystery shrouding the full extent of gun violence in our communities is reason enough for lawmakers to focus their attention solely on gun violence. Bell sits on the six-member House of Delegates subcommittee where he says about 300 gun-related bills have been killed since 2016. He says Virginia could benefit from simply committing to more closely studying gun violence and mass shootings in particular.

Bell, a retired Air Force officer, likened the task to what the military does to better understand accidental deaths in their ranks. Each accident is carefully studied to identify patterns of behavior and events that military officials might be able to identify in time to prevent the next tragedy.

Bell said he would like either the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission, the General Assembly’s research arm, or one of the state’s universities to commit to studying Virginia’s gun violence, with the help of state funding.

That seems like a reasonable goal. But it’s hardly the only reasonable step Virginia lawmakers might consider in their July special session. Let’s hope they fully commit to wrestling with this deadly issue and finding common ground.

(4) comments

Tell It Like It Is

F Harris, read #1 a, #2 and #3 carefully please. Webster ............. militia noun mi·​li·​tia | \ mə-ˈli-shə \ Definition of militia 1a : a part of the organized armed forces of a country liable to call only in emergency The militia was called to quell the riot. b : a body of citizens organized for military service 2 : the whole body of able-bodied male citizens declared by law as being subject to call to military service Thank you, now you can shut the front door as well. "Gun Free Zones" to responsible firearms owners are nothing more than "Gun Victim Zones". Simply apply and enforce the laws we already have and solve the mental issues. As my earlier post states on the stats, "violent crime" stats are down in VA because of more firearm ownership. Now what about that is it that you can't understand? Oh I forgot the anti's don't want to acknowledge that fact. They just want to reclassify it as "Gun Violence" and include suicides and justified police shootings to get the numbers up. No thank you. NO MORE GUN CONTROL!!

JimNecci

Is Anna Maria Ward the artist and the author? Is the author someone else? Pretty unclear who wrote the distorted article. If this is a 'letter to the editor' shouldn't there be a name at the bottom?

Tell It Like It Is

Ok people let’s take a smart pill here and look at the other side. The author failed to mention that the suicides and justified police shootings are really NOT part of "gun violence”, as they would like you to believe. The term “gun violence” and its related stats were manufactured by the Democratic, liberal, anti-gun movement simply to make the number look much, much more inflated than the bad guys coming at someone with a gun to do them harm. That is the essence of what one would fear, correct? Someone who wants to off himself or herself will simply get a kitchen knife or a bottle of pills, or a bed sheet, or car or anything else they find to take care of that, and nothing in any additional gun control effort will stop that. The police will continue to use lethal force when needed, and again nothing the author suggests will change that either. The End. Real “gun violence” is a person with a firearm intending to do harm to another person. Look at those facts only and the number is down in gun friendly zones but up in gun free zones. Take a smart pill and think about that. Additionally just look our gun free cities like Chicago and their increases in crime and shooting cases. YES, I said "shootings", which are the stats you should be looking at NOT the manufactured term of “gun Violence” numbers because they do not reflect what you think. You stated “1,028 gun deaths in Virginia in 2017”. Well I assume the author did this part of their homework correctly, check this out, because VA is actually the 4th lowest violent crime rate state in the US. https://www.usatoday.com/story/news/nation/2018/02/21/states-most-and-least-gun-violence-see-where-your-state-stacks-up/359395002/ 29. Virginia Firearm deaths per 100,000 people: 12.0 per 100,000 Total firearm deaths 2016: 1049 (suicides: 671, homicides: 353) Violent crime rate: 217.6 per 100,000 (4th lowest) Permit required to carry handgun: Yes Poverty rate: 11.0% (12th lowest) OMG, it’s gone down from 1049 to 1028 with NO additional gun control? How can that be possible? Could it …. could it be ….. Oh no it couldn’t be ….. Is it because more Virginians are choosing to legally purchase firearms and get their CHP carry permits? Holy Mollie Batman!! The Liberal, Anti-gun folks simply cannot tell the truth. There is no call to change this we are well below median in this area. . As for the meetings, you really think the readers are so naive as to believe the Democrats don’t do the same shady meetings on other things? Like Oduma Care? Please. Enforce and prosecute the laws we already have, focus on the real cause of mental health. The author can stop with “we are more holy than thou” attitude and shut the front door, respectfully. NO MORE GUN CONTROL!

F Harris

You know which of the ten commandments I like best? The one that says "... covet thy neighbor's wife." Yes, it says that. Go read it. What? There are words before that phrase? Oh - I choose to ignore those because I don't like them. Sort of the like the NRA or the I-want-all-the-guns-I-can-get-my-hands-on people or the gun lovers who want anyone and everyone to have access to guns with no restrictions, no background checks, no nothing. Take a look at the missing words that come before " ...the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed." The words that PRECEDE that phrase from the second amendment say that gun ownership is for a well-regulated militia as being necessary to the security of a free state. The second amendment doesn't say people have a right to just simply own guns for any reason. Our founding fathers, in fact, defined a well-regulated militia as being government-sponsored, regularly and formally trained and drilled. In fact, today the National Guard is what comes closest to the founding fathers' intentions ... not the NRA.

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