By Brian Moran and Daniel Carey
Moran is Virginia Secretary of Public Safety and Homeland Security and Carey is Virginia Secretary of Health and Human Resources.
Virginia is no stranger to gun violence. Although mass shootings like the one at Virginia Tech and the most recent tragedy in Virginia Beach make headlines, we lose more than 1,000 Virginians to gun violence each year. Children are shot in parks, community members are shot in their places of worship, and people often use firearms to take their own lives. On average, nearly three Virginians are killed by gun violence per day. We have studied this issue, and we know which gun violence prevention policies must be implemented to save lives. The solutions are in front of us, and now we must garner the political willpower to adopt them.
Following the deadly shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007, then-Gov. Tim Kaine commissioned a report, asking for a set of comprehensive recommendations to prevent gun violence in the future. The Virginia Tech report includes recommendations on mental health policies because in this case the shooter had a mental illness. Virginia desperately needed to increase the time frames for emergency custody and temporary detention orders. In 2007 the duration of a temporary detention order for someone who was mentally ill and a danger to themselves or others was only 48 hours. In 2007, the 48-hour time frame was one of the shortest in the country and mental health professionals often noted that the time period was too short to effectively evaluate the individual and contact family members. After several years of advocacy, legislation to increase the time frame for the emergency custody order and temporary detention order passed the General Assembly and became law.
While mental illness is a serious issue in our communities, it is not causally linked to gun violence. In fact, people with mental illness are much more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. Research actually demonstrates that the best predictor of future violence is past violence. The 2007 report also suggested changes to gun purchase laws, campus authority to regulate guns, and emergency planning policies.
Although the General Assembly has acted to do more to address mental health concerns, the legislature has not passed laws explicitly related to gun violence. A key recommendation from the 2007 report would require background checks for all firearms sales, including private sales. Requiring background checks for all firearm purchases would help keep guns out of dangerous and vulnerable hands. Although members of the General Assembly have repeatedly introduced legislation to address the private sale loophole, the legislature continues to block these bills in committee before they ever come up for a vote on the floor.
Now is the time to have a meaningful conversation about gun violence prevention that pertains expressly to guns. Gov. Northam has called for a floor vote on eight bills that would address different aspects of the gun violence epidemic, from access to the lethality of firearms. These are common-sense bills that will save lives. We have looked at this issue closely, and we have heard from the experts. The gun violence crisis must be addressed head on.