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Lawmakers hope for productive dialogue to make Virginia safer following mass school shooting

RICHMOND, Va. - Virginia lawmakers expressed anger and sadness one day after 17 people were killed at a Florida high school at the latest mass shooting in America.  However, lawmakers have differing views on what steps can and should be taken to prevent this kind of violence.

Republican Delegate Margaret Ranson (R-King George) moved that the House of Delegates adjourn their morning session in honor of the shooting victims at Stoneman Douglas High School.

Meanwhile, Democrats in both the House and Senate questioned when lawmakers will act on gun legislation; adding that every major gun safety bill they brought this session was voted down by Republicans in committee.

“I was disappointed but not surprised.  This has become a very polarizing issue, which I think is unfortunate,” said Del. Schuyler Van Valkenburg (D-Henrico).

Van Valkenburg teaches at Glen Allen High School, and the shooting in Parkland reminded him of a false alarm at their school in 2014 that caused Henrico Swat teams to enter the school building.

“The range of emotions that the kids go through, you go through, and that wasn’t a real event, right, so yeah, it is horrifying,” Van Valkenburg said.

Republican leaders said they made progress in making sure Virginia school buildings are secure.  In 2013-15, more than $6 million was made available for Virginia schools to bolster their building security through grants, GOP leaders said.  Last year, HB 1392 was signed into law allow school divisions to higher retired police officers as school security guards.

“We are all angered by the act of evil we saw in Florida and are heartbroken for the victims, their families, and all of those affected,” said Parker Slaybaugh, Commmunication Director for Speaker of the House Kirk, in a statement. "As a former school teacher, Speaker Cox believes schools are for learning, not violence, and the House has taken concrete steps to prevent gun violence and make our schools safer.”

Freshman Delegate John McGuire (R-Goochland) said it is too early to tell what kind of policy change could have prevented the shooting in Parkland.

“It seems like we are playing wack-a-mole, he said. “Every time there is a problem in society we want to have a quick reaction.

“That’s why I say we need to stand back and see what’s going on,” Del. McGuire said.  “If we see something, say something, do something.  If we keep an eye on each other, we’ll be a better stronger Virginia.”

Van Valkenburg said people are tired of waiting for the next school shooting to occur.

“What we’re seeing recently is that people are fighting back over that normalization, saying enough is enough,” he said.

Both McGuire and Van Valkenburg said they are hopeful that both sides can have a productive conversation about improving school and gun safety, despite the current polarization.