Is there any act, no matter how disturbing, that could induce the General Assembly to pass meaningful gun legislation? Apparently not.
In the wake of the incident in Newport News, where a 6-year-old shot his teacher with a gun he brought from home, our state elected officials, given the choice between covering their backsides in upcoming primaries and looking out for their constituents, took the low road again.
Nearly 50 firearm-related bills were introduced in the two state houses this session. What made it through the political sausage-making in Richmond was this: A bill that gives gun owners a tax credit if they buy a firearm safety device, such as a locker or safe.
There were about 500 gun-related deaths among minors in Virginia between 2017 and 2022, according to the chief medical examiner for the Virginia Department of Health. More than 100 firearm incidents were reported in state schools in the last school year.
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In late 2020, a few gun-related tragedies ago, a Christopher Newport University survey of registered Virginia voters found that 86 percent supported background checks on all gun sales, and 73 percent supported “red-flag” laws to keep guns out of the hands of those seen to be a risk to themselves or others. Fifty-four percent supported banning assault-type weapons.
It’s hard to believe those voters have changed their minds after the gun-related mayhem we’ve seen in the past three years.
And yet, the carnage and the political excuses continue.
A bill introduced by Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D–Fairfax, seeking penalties for firearms owners who don’t store their guns safely so that kids can’t get to them, managed to get through the Senate in watered-down form, with a slap-on-the-wrist fine of no more than $250. Even that couldn’t get through the House, though. The Public Safety subcommittee killed it.
Sen. Richard Stuart, R–King George, said he was concerned about the impact stricter guns laws would have on hunters.
“There are those of us who live in rural Virginia, and we are raised up with hunting guns,” he said. “And they are not assault weapons.”
It is hard to see how any of the legislation presented in the General Assembly this year would have had a negative effect on a sensible gun owner. Nobody is trying to take away shotguns from law-abiding, mentally stable citizens.
As to why our elected officials can’t do what the majority of Virginians want, Stephen Farnsworth, director of the University of Mary Washington Center for Leadership and Media Studies, has perhaps the best answer: primaries.
He points out that people who vote in primaries are “much more extreme. They are much more likely to be single-issue voters on things like guns and abortion.”
A cynic might think that an elected official, knowing that the majority of constituents want him or her to do something — anything — to literally stop the bleeding, would consider the primaries and decide to take the safe route.
Save your job or save us. We seem to have our answer.