Twelve years ago today, an armed gunman murdered 32 people at Virginia Tech and wounded 17 more before taking his own life. It remains the deadliest school shooting in American history.
The shooting led to some changes in Virginia’s gun laws, most in the form of campus safety reforms. But in the decade following the shooting, Virginia’s legislature, which has largely been controlled by Republicans, has actually passed more measures to preserve or expand gun rights than to reign them in.
Since Virginia Tech, the state has made it easier to carry a concealed gun into a bar, made it legal to keep guns in car glove boxes, and continued to ignore calls for expanded background checks.
Former Republican Governor Bob McDonnell even repealed the state’s one-gun-a-month law that kept the Virginia Tech gunman from purchasing multiple guns at once.
Many other states have loosened gun laws and 10 states now allow guns on college campuses. Indeed, long-lasting gun safety reforms have yet to come to fruition and the mass shooting epidemic has actually gotten worse.
For gun safety advocates, however, things may be starting to look up.
The debate reached an inflection point after last year’s shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida. The student survivors of that shooting infamously founded March for Our Lives, an advocacy group that is fighting to end gun violence by enacting tougher gun laws.
Despite intense opposition from the National Rifle Association, the Parkland students’ passionate and consistent calls for change sparked waves of protests and led to a shift in public opinion and a slew of new gun bills across the country. Last year was the first time in six years that there were more gun safety bills than pro-gun bills passed in the United States.
But this shift has not yet made its way to Virginia, which is home to the NRA’s headquarters.
If you’re wondering where everyday Virginians stand on the gun issue, the numbers are pretty clear. According to a June 2017 poll from Quinnipiac, 91% of Virginians support requiring background checks for all gun buyers (private sales are still not subject to background checks). A more recent Quinnipiac poll showed that 60% of Virginians support stricter gun laws overall.
Despite this public support for stricter gun laws, the Republican-controlled General Assembly rejected the majority of more than 80 gun reform bills in 2018.
In 2019, Republicans did more of the same, as a Republican-led subcommittee in the House of Delegates voted down over a dozen gun safety bills. The state Senate dide the same, with the Republican-helmed Committee on Courts of Justice voting down 11 separate gun control bills. Sens. Glen Sturtevent (R-10) and Bryce Reeves (R-17), both of whom will likely face tough elections in November, are on the committee. Sturtevant voted to block all but one of the bills, while Reeves voted to defeat all of them.
Twelve years later, people associated with the Virginia Tech shooting are still demanding tougher gun laws. Despite facing one setback after another, they’re holding firm in their fight.