Opinion: Finding Common Ground on Gun Safety

Courtesy of Del. Willett

By Dogwood Staff

March 22, 2023

The simple math of Virginia having a Republican-led House, Democratic-led Senate, and Republican governor means that the only bills that become laws are those where we find common ground on a particular issue. This legislative session has many more examples of areas of disagreement than agreement, although I found some encouragement in a shared focus on addressing certain pressing issues including our ongoing mental health and opioid addiction crisis. None of us have escaped the trauma of having family or friends suffering from those issues. 

I held out hope during this session for finding at least some level of agreement on one other major challenge of our times: gun violence. Here again, it is almost impossible not to be touched by the issue: there have been innumerable tragedies from shootings across the country, including those here in Virginia. These deaths were senseless. And some were even more disheartening because the victims were children. It was recently reported that guns were the leading cause of death for Virginia children and teenagers.

I think we can agree that protecting our children from gun violence is an imperative, which is why I was particularly troubled in learning that the Henrico County Public Schools are seeing more guns across the system. Most often, these guns are coming from the students’ homes where the weapons are unsecured. One of the most tragic student shootings in the state happened on a footpath behind Godwin High School in western Henrico. A 16-year-old male student obtained a loaded handgun from his home and shot and killed a 13-year-old student, Lucia Bremmer, and wounded her friend. We have learned that for many reasons the 16 year old should not have had access to a gun, especially in his home. And no one has been able to answer how a six-year-old boy in Newport News was able to bring a parent’s gun to school and shoot his teacher. 

Parents are concerned for their children’s safety and mental well being. One of my House colleagues, Angelia Williams Graves from Norfolk, was troubled by what she observed in her area schools:  “Some of the young people have had this look of hopelessness. They are not happy, playful and joyful like kids should be.”

I joined Angelia and several of my House Democratic colleagues in introducing or co-patroning bills this session to try to address the gun safety crisis. From assault weapons bans, to safe storage, to studying the impacts of gun violence on our communities. These were common sense pieces of legislation that could save lives. Unfortunately, nearly all of those potentially lifesaving bills failed and only one gun safety bill has made it to the governor, a measure from Delegate Alfonso Lopez that provides a tax credit for the purchase of equipment to safely store guns away from children.

With the upcoming state legislative elections, we most likely will still have some level of split between Democratic and Republican leadership and again must find bipartisan compromise to be able to enact new laws. I remain steadfast to find common ground on gun safety measures. Our childrens’ lives depend on it. 

Delegate Rodney Willett has served in Virginia’s 73rd House District since 2020. He represents part of Henrico County, and is a Virginia native who serves on the following House committees: Finance, Health Welfare and Institutions, and Agriculture, Chesapeake Bay, and Natural Resources. He can be reached by email at [email protected].

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