RICHMOND, Va. – Democrats in the Virginia General Assembly have expressed frustration over Republicans’ refusal to take up gun control legislation in the wake of Wednesday’s deadly school shooting in Florida.
“We extend our thoughts and prayers to the victims and their families, but our thoughts and prayers are not enough,” House Minority Leader David Toscano and Del. Charniele Herring, who chairs the Virginia House Democratic Caucus, said in a joint statement.
The shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida, left 17 people dead and 14 injured. It was the deadliest school shooting in the United States since 26 people were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, in 2012.
“These tragedies are not inherently inevitable; rather, they are enabled by the continued failure of policy-makers to act,” Toscano and Herring stated. “We have been entrusted by the public to institute policies to keep our communities safe, and we are failing the people who elected us to do so.”
Republican legislators said that they too are concerned about gun violence but that lawmakers should not be rash.
“It seems like we’re playing whack-a-mole,” said Del. John McGuire, R-Henrico. “Every time there’s 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.”
Democrats chided Republicans for such statements, including a comment by Del. Thomas Wright, R-Lunenberg, who said of the Florida shooting: “My heart goes out. But when it comes to the constitutional right to defend yourself and your family, that’s something that’s guaranteed.”
On the Senate floor, Sen. Richard Black, R-Loudoun, said shootings happen at schools because they are gun-free zones. “The idea that we disarm our people in the schools – we forbid our teachers and our staff from carrying concealed firearms – is a mistake,” he said.
This legislative session, Virginia Republicans proposed bills to repeal the state’s prohibition on bringing weapons to houses of worship. Such a measure passed the Senate on a party-line vote and is awaiting action in the House.
Virginia Democrats also have proposed several bills regarding guns, including:
- Banning bump stocks, a device that allows a semi-automatic rifle to mimic the firing speed of a fully automatic weapon. Bump stocks were used by the shooter who killed 58 people and injured more than 500 at a concert in Las Vegas in October.
- Instituting universal background checks on people who want to buy guns, including in private sales and at gun shows. Democrats said opinion polls show that most Virginians support such a law.
- Keeping guns away from individuals who may present a threat to themselves or others. Legislation introduced by Del. Richard “Rip” Sullivan Jr., D-Arlington, would have allowed prosecutors and law enforcement officers to seek a court order to remove firearms from such individuals.
All of those bills were killed in committees controlled by Republicans.
On Thursday, President Donald Trump announced that he would visit the site of the Florida massacre and make school safety a priority when he meets with the nation’s governors next month.
“To every parent, teacher and child who is hurting so badly, we are here for you, whatever you need, whatever we can do, to ease your pain,” Trump said. “Your suffering is our burden also.”
U.S. House Speaker Paul Ryan urged Americans to come together and not politicize the shooting. “This is pure evil,” he said.
The shooter has been identified as 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, who had been expelled from Stoneman Douglas High School for disciplinary reasons. Students who knew Cruz said he openly talked about his infatuation with guns. The FBI was warned in January that Cruz was a potential threat but did not act on the information.
Democratic Del. Cheryl Turpin, a teacher from Virginia Beach, discussed the shooting on the floor of the Virginia House. Like Ryan, she urged people to refrain from playing politics with the tragedy. But Turpin said that should not prevent legislators from enacting gun laws.
“Our call to action is not a political one but a plea for mercy, a plea that we will put politics aside and address this crisis head-on,” Turpin said.
“Waiting around for the right time to have this conversation, yet again, will only put more lives at risk. There are too many empty chairs in dining rooms across America due to our inaction on gun reform.”
By Aya Driouche/Capital News Service
Capital News Service is a flagship program of VCU’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students participating in the program provide state government coverage for Virginia’s community newspapers and other media outlets, under the supervision of Associate Professor Jeff South.