By Lori Haas

Haas is the Virginia State Director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

On Nov. 5, the people of Virginia sent Democrats to Richmond with a simple message: act on gun violence! Following years of inaction and excuses by Republican leadership in the Virginia General Assembly on gun violence, real change is finally coming to Richmond.

With Ralph Northam still in the governor’s mansion for two more years, Virginia — the home state of the National Rifle Association — will lead the nation in developing, passing, and implementing a series of evidence-based policies to reduce gun deaths in the commonwealth.

Yet the gun lobby, after losing election after election, is now pushing for Second Amendment Sanctuaries throughout the state. The Virginia Citizen Defense League (VCDL), with their leader, Phillip Van Cleave, has made it its mission to go against the wishes of the voters of Virginia and continues to push for their guns-everywhere agenda.

The VCDL has long been viewed as a side show inside the halls of the General Assembly — by members of both parties. Their clownish leader Phillip Van Cleave has never met a camera or reporter that he didn’t want to get in front of — even if that meant further damaging his reputation and cause(see gunanimals).

Van Cleave is now spinning a fantasy for gun extremists across the state. Like some sort of 2nd Amendment pied piper he is leading a traveling circus of AR-15 toting white men to county councils and localities calling for the enactment of “2nd Amendment Sanctuaries.” A catchy name that means absolutely nothing.

The handful of counties in Virginia that have passed these symbolic gestures are mostly rural, conservative areas. They have been bombarded with Van Cleave and his followers, armed to the teeth demanding sanctuary from policies that are supported by 90% of Virginia citizens. Requiring universal background checks or establishing an Extreme Risk Protection Order in Virginia will do nothing to infringe on the rights of law-abiding, responsible gun owners in the Commonwealth. All of the bills in the governor’s package presented this past summer have been upheld by courts across the country.

Republicans have refused to address this issue even though the majority of Virginia voters said that gun violence prevention was their top voting issue. Instead of trying to appease their constituents, Republicans in the General Assembly held moments of silence and then killed each life-saving bill.

The final straw came on July 9, 2019. After 12 people were murdered at their workplace in Virginia Beach, the governor convened a special session to address Virginia’s gun violence epidemic — an epidemic that kills more than 1,000 Virginians annually.

In a move that will be remembered as one of the greatest political blunders in Virginia history, Republicans adjourned the session after only 90 minutes. This act of cowardice was not lost on Virginia voters, and on Nov. 5, they made their voices heard. They sent the message that inaction is no longer acceptable.

Now that commonsense has finally prevailed, the gun lobby is left with empty gestures and gimmicks. They are worried because change is coming to Virginia. The new gun violence prevention majority is going to pass laws that save lives and protect families in Virginia. They will be enforced and applied statewide and applicable to all Virginia citizens in every county. The reality is that these sanctuary declarations are not worth the piece of paper that they are printed on.

To the gun lobby we offer thoughts and prayers for their loss and if that piece of paper makes Phil Van Cleave feel better, well then bless his heart.

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