By Stephen Nash
Nash is a visiting senior research scholar at the University of Richmond, and the author of the book Virginia Climate Fever, published by the University of Virginia Press.
Listen up, Roanoke area gun owners, especially if you’re a Republican. Each of us has powerful leverage to affect legislation in Virginia right now. It only takes a few keyboard clicks and quick voicemails.
Oh, and it will also require your conviction that you’re a thinking voter, not a cartoon drawn by addled extremists in Washington and in our state legislature who ignore their own constituents.
The tragic, as we’ve learned again this week, is now commonplace. And when mass shootings occur in Virginia or elsewhere we gun owners are made to seem as if we’re absolutely opposed to firearm safety measures. Those are falsehoods.
Not only most Virginians but most National Rifle Association members and Republicans agree by wide majorities, just as you do, that we need sane gun laws — to outlaw assault weapons, silencers, and bump stocks, for example. To recognize that many places are utterly inappropriate for weapons. To make certain that disturbed people and offenders can’t buy them.
But someone forgot to tell this area’s state legislators such as Christopher Head, David Suetterlein, Joe McNamara and Steve Newman. Or maybe those lawmakers just haven’t yet spoken up — they’ve been content to watch good legislation die in Richmond. They await your sharpest encouragements.
Several surveys have found that most NRA members — some have found as many as 7 in 10 — support universal background checks for anyone trying to buy a gun. Don’t trust polls? Good. How about one conducted by the Republican pollster Frank Luntz (he now advises the Trump administration)?
After the Sandy Hook school massacre, a Luntz survey of hundreds of NRA members found that 87 percent agree that guns should be kept out of the hands of criminals. NRA members also support background checks for purchases, required reporting of lost or stolen weapons, and “concealed carry” rules, by margins of 63 to 79 percent.
Several independent polls have found that Republicans and independent voters support universal background checks by about 80 percent. A Christopher Newport University policy poll recently found that Virginians aren’t much different: “Overall support for specific gun control policies show general bipartisan agreement,” the report summarizes.
After the slaughter of 12 city employees in Virginia Beach — the latest chapter in our growing book of tragedies — a special legislative session was adjourned without action after two hours. The 2019 regular session saw dozens of gun control bills stifled in committees.
Is that really the way you want this conversation to go? Firearms killed more than a thousand Virginians in 2018 — about three a day, including children. During the past ten years, gun violence has killed more than 600,000 American civilians — more than all combat fatalities in World War II.
Meanwhile, people who pretend to speak for gun owners call folks who worry about mass shootings “radical and opportunistic puppets” and “craven gun-grabbing zealots.” Colorful, but are they describing you? Another “gun rights spokesman” who has organized Richmond rallies attended by our legislators, and who has been widely quoted on TV and in the press, turns out to be in favor of arming toddlers with pistols, machine guns and grenade launchers. You can watch Philip Van Cleave, if you’re ready, online.
Doesn’t speak for you? Didn’t think so. Make sure your legislators know it, too: that you’re ready for gun safety legislation immediately — and you expect them to fight for it.
You can find and get in touch with them instantly online. It’s always better to contact or visit your legislator now, before the frantically busy General Assembly session begins in January.
You can also write to the Virginia Crime Commission here, or at 1111 East Broad Street, Ste. B036, Richmond, Virginia 23219. It’s collecting citizen opinions about reasonable gun safety laws to pass along to the legislature.
Richard Keene, a 51-year-old gun owner from Chesterfield, told a reporter that he felt the Governor’s special gun control session turned out to be “a lot of hype for nothing.”
He said, “I don’t feel like the common, normal person, the normal American, is represented anymore...there is some common ground for the common good that all of us could work toward.” The take-home word for you and me: “work.” Do it now.