In a discussion featuring political leaders from around the Commonwealth, Richmonders voiced their support for gun control legislation in Virginia.
In a roundtable discussion on gun control legislation hosted by Senator Tim Kaine on southside Monday morning, Richmonders voiced their concerns about a lack of attention given to youth and education in underserved areas, and that lack of attention acting as a catalyst for gun violence.
Held at the New Life Deliverance Tabernacle, members of affected families and people from multiple organizations such as Moms Demand Action, participated in the discussion, along with General Assembly representatives including Delegate Dawn Adams and Delegate Schuyler VanValkenburg. Also in attendance were Mayor Levar Stoney and Brian Moran, Virginia’s Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security.
“We’ve been dealing with violence for a long period of time, and now it has reached its apex,” Pastor Robert Winfree said. “There ought to be some stipulations on [firearms].”
Kaine stated that two pieces of legislation addressing tighter regulation on background checks when purchasing a firearm are currently pending in the Senate.
“We lose almost three Virignians a day from guns,” Moran said. “What the Senator has put forward is really a robust piece of legislation to address the homicides, the accidental deaths, as well as the suicides.”
In preparation for a special General Assembly session to consider gun control legislation, set by Governor Northam for July 9, Kaine is visiting several towns across Virginia in order to involve local communities in the upcoming discussion with lawmakers.
“We are grateful for calling a special session on July 9, because we are sick and tired of the spineless leadership in the General Assembly,” Stoney said. “Black and brown people and families are affected the most by bringing firearms into underserved communities. Black and brown people are dying each and every day. So my question to the GA is, ‘How many more is it going to take?’”
Northam made this decision after the Virginia Beach mass shooting on May 31, when a disgruntled employee open fired in a municipal building, killing 12 people and injuring four more. Northam criticized majority Republicans in the General Assembly for killing gun control legislature in subcommittees before allowing them to reach the floor for a full vote.
The main concerns expressed by the citizens, families, and advocates in attendance were for children, education, mental health services, and cyclical poverty and drug dependence in underserved communities. Kaine listened intently to all these arguments, while maintaining his reasoning for more rigorous background checks, fewer rounds in magazines, increasing number of street cameras, and banning gun silencers.
“It don’t start with nobody but ourselves in the community,” said Mark Whitfield, a family member affected by gun violence. “I come from the projects, I come from the streets. I know what’s been really going on for a long time… You can’t talk about guns without talking about drugs. The drugs will change people’s attitude. I know people who went to college and drop out. They can’t get income, so what do they do? They sell drugs. You sell drugs? You got to have a gun for protection. That’s how it works.”
Whitfield, as well as several others, called for individual responsibility and more influential involvement with children. He cited a loss of summer programs and educational leadership as part of the cycle of gun violence.
“What burns our relationship with the police is these people who sell drugs, to provide for their children, go to jail,” Whitfield said. “In jail you’re supposed to get rehabilitation. No, don’t work like that, because when you get out of jail, no one’s going to hire you because you’re a class A felon. So now you’re back on the streets. It’s a repeating cycle.”
Local small business owner and children’s health coach Randy O’Neill noted that neither the Virginia Chamber of Commerce nor members of the Richmond City Council were included at the roundtable. Some members of City Council have criticized Stoney in the past for giving his attention to large public projects rather than allocating money into small, local economies, which could potentially initiate change within underserved communities.
“We better get on the block, in those kids’ lives immediately,” said O’Neill, owner of Virginia is for Education, a mobile gym that coaches children how to exercise in their own neighborhoods. “We need to create critical mass on the block, where youth services can actually be on the block where children need to be served. We have to stop taking kids out of their community and suggesting this is the only place you’re safe.”
Mental health professional Anthony Jones noted the lack of focused treatment for those with substance abuse or mental health difficulties, which may also contribute to gun violence.
Although many roundtable participants voiced real concerns from their own communities, few arguments were presented that had not been heard before. Some participants noted the solutions being presented were too short-term and based on reactionary attitudes, rather than actual long-term solutions.
“We have our own, exclusive, unique issues right here in Richmond and the surrounding area,” local radio news personality Clovia Lawrence said.
Two voices of opposition spoke out during the roundtable; they expressed fear that their Second Amendment rights would be infringed if any gun legislation were to pass. Kaine stressed that current legislation focused on more regulated background checks, that no piece of legislation conflicts in any way with Second Amendment rights, and that his legislation would in no way result in banning firearms.
“We really want to focus just on reasonable gun laws,” Moran said. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough. We need facts and laws.”
Photos by John Donegan.