andrew goddard

Andrew Goddard, whose son Colin survived after being shot at Virginia Tech in 2007, speaks before the Virginia State Crime Commission on Tuesday about the need for gun control measures in Virginia.

RICHMOND — Twelve years ago, Andrew Goddard, whose son Colin survived four bullet wounds at the 2007 Virginia Tech shootings, sat in a room at the Capitol in Richmond and watched state lawmakers reject a measure that would have expanded background checks for firearm sales.

“We’re not giving up on this,” Goddard said then. “This is too important.”

Twelve years and another Virginia mass shooting later, he stood before the Virginia State Crime Commission, imploring legislators to act.

“We’ve all become very good at offering thoughts and prayers to victims and their families. My family received many of those when my son was shot. But we should be thinking about what we can do to reduce this number, whether we call it epidemic or not, more than 1,000 people dying where I was born would have been a total epidemic,” said Goddard, who is a native of England. “Our thoughts should be how to reduce that number further, and our prayers should be to have the courage and intelligence to put things into action and not just words.”

On Tuesday, Goddard stood first to speak before the crime commission, which met for a second day to listen to research about gun violence and proposals for how to curb it.

This task has fallen upon the commission because Republicans, using their slim majorities in the legislature, abruptly adjourned a special session last month Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, called for the purpose of taking up gun control measures.

Lori Haas followed Goddard. She’s been an advocate for gun control since her daughter survived being shot at Virginia Tech.

“I’ve spoken in front of the General Assembly and many of you for 12 long years now,” Haas told the crime commission.

She told them how since the Virginia Tech shootings, there have been about 11,000 gun-related deaths in the commonwealth.

“We are not doing our jobs if we are not responding,” Haas said. “There are many, many policies, it’s not a single fix, it’s not a single issue, it is not a problem that is easily fixed. I appreciate you being here, but can we not wait any longer to address this problem?”

For Goddard and Haas, the fight for gun control has been a long one, but they said they are finally feeling the growing momentum for it. A lot has changed in the 12 years since the shootings at Virginia Tech, where 32 students and faculty were killed and 17 wounded by a mentally disturbed student who killed himself as police arrived.

Gun control advocates are catching up to gun rights groups both in fundraising and political activism. Polls show that public support for tighter guns laws is rising. But this doesn’t mean the General Assembly will expand gun control this year.

Sen. Mark Obenshain, R-Rockingham, the chairman of the commission, said the crime commission will study the issue of gun violence with the goal of having a report with recommendations to the General Assembly before it reconvenes Nov. 18. The bipartisan but Republican-controlled commission studies criminal justice issues and makes recommendations to the General Assembly.

Democrats and gun control advocates like Goddard and Haas said it’s more likely the issue will have to be settled in the Nov. 5 election, when all 140 seats of the General Assembly are on the ballot.

If Democrats win two seats in both the House of Delegates and Senate, they will have control of the subcommittees and committees composed of a handful of legislators.

For years, gun control measures have died there.

“It’s frustrating to go through this every year and not get anywhere and not even get afforded a vote because of four or five people on a committee,” Goddard said after leaving the commission meeting. “But I’ve met so many people who have lost loved ones to give up.”

People packed a room to speak to the crime commission Tuesday.

People wearing “Guns Save Lives” stickers told the commission not to punish the many law-abiding gun owners because of the few using guns to kill others.

A man sat in the audience for five hours holding a sign with the photo from Northam’s medical school yearbook showing a man in blackface and another in a KKK costume. It had the caption, “The man behind the sheet wants our guns.”

Northam has denied being in the photo and no evidence has surfaced since February of who is depicted in the photo.

“One way to stop drunk drivers from killing sober drivers would be to forbid sober drivers from driving on the road at any time,” Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizen’s Defense League, told the commission. “That sounds stupid and backwards, welcome to world of gun control.”

One idea that Democrats and a few Republicans have coalesced around is the concept of a red flag law that would allow courts to temporarily ban people from possessing firearms if there are clear signs that they pose a danger to themselves or others.

The limited research on these laws that have spread since the school shooting last year in Parkland, Florida, shows they are promising in reducing suicides by firearm.

Del. Jason Miyares, R-Virginia Beach, told the commission that after the May 31 shooting at Virginia Beach, he studied what other states were doing to address the intersection of mental health and guns. The gunman, a city employee who had just resigned, shot and killed 12 people and wounded four others.

The commission heard legislators present dozens of bills proposing ideas such as banning assault rifles and high-capacity magazines, giving localities the authority to regulate guns and requiring people to report lost or stolen firearms within 24 hours.

Del. Cia Price, D-Newport News, got emotional while speaking to the commission about representing an area where gun violence is common.

“Not one more Virginian needs to lose their life to gun violence for us to acknowledge we have a problem,” she said. “I know that. I live that.”

Among her proposals is allocating grants for community assessments for youth and gang prevention in cities including Roanoke.

“I know legislation alone is not going to end gun violence, but we must each play our role, and my role is legislator,” Price said.

Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, did not express support for any of the gun control measures or a red flag law. He’s proposed ideas such as holding companies liable for failing to properly handle threats and violence and requiring all employees in state and local government buildings to be screened at security points.

“Let us not start the conversation, but finish with results,” Stanley said.

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