Last November, Virginians sent a clear message. The status quo that had existed in Richmond needed to be upended. Voters were exhausted from the constant stream of right-wing orthodoxy forced by our elected officials. They were tired of common-sense solutions being ignored. Voters decimated a huge Republican majority in the House of Delegates by flipping 15 seats, leaving a slim House Republican majority: 51 to 49.
Many thought Republicans would get the message. They lost big, and, in order to avoid similar losses in 2019, they had to chart a new path. A path of fairness, leadership, and bipartisanship?
While House Republicans spoke of a new bipartisan era in Richmond, their actions speak for themselves. They are still in charge — the will of the people be damned. They are going to do what they want, and that started with ignoring calls to improve Virginia’s gun laws.
In 2017, Virginia Democrats ran unapologetically on gun-violence prevention. Gov. Ralph Northam (D) made the issue one of his top priorities. Many believed that compromise could be reached to reduce Virginia’s rising gun-violence rate. We were hopeful that officials of both parties favored removing guns from domestic abusers and those subject to protective orders. We believed that all politicians saw the danger in the sale of bump stocks. We were optimistic that common-sense proposals such as locking up guns in home day cares and keeping weapons out of houses of worship would find bipartisan support. We thought too highly of the majority.
On one of the first days of session, Republicans on the Senate Courts of Justice Committee ushered in this new era of “bipartisanship” by defeating bills calling for universal background checks and the removal of guns from dangerous individuals. They did so methodically and with purpose so that after the first hearing very few gun bills remained on the docket. Popular proposals, including those banning bump stocks, were punted to another committee to be killed by another group of Republicans.
House Republicans, whose super-majority eroded after pro-gun legislators were defeated, are in denial about their rejection. Much of this indifference occurs in a small subcommittee hearing room. The Militia, Police, and Public Safety Subcommittee #1 (MPPS #1) is known as “the place where gun bills go to die.” When the Republicans held a 16 seat majority, MPPS #1 was aligned 4-to-1 in favor of the majority. In the new more evenly divided House, another Democrat was added to make it 4-to-2. Hilarious!
Every Virginian should know their names and the voting records of the Republican members of this subcommittee — Chairman Thomas Wright, Michael Webert, Matthew Fariss and Nicholas Freitas. Every gun safety bill was voted to be “Passed By Indefinitely” (PBI) as a way to avoid voting “no” on popular measures.
This session, universal background checks, a bump stock ban, the removal of guns from domestic abusers, a measure to make it illegal to give a toddler a gun and a bill requiring home day cares to lock guns during work hours were all passed by indefinitely, four votes to two.
Occasionally, a survivor or family member of gun violence will make an emotional plea in favor of a particular gun-safety bill. Following their testimony, Wright will hold a cheap moment of silence, and before the tears in the room dry, a motion will be made to PBI.
Enough is enough.
Gun-violence prevention was a top voting issue in 2017 and it will be again thanks to thousands of committed activists around the commonwealth. I am proud to be a leader in these efforts and I can guarantee that we will continue to sit in on committee meetings and show our faces at legislator’s offices. We will show up at fundraisers and rallies. We will embarrass senators and delegates for their unpopular votes on common-sense gun safety legislation. Virginians care about gun-violence prevention, and we will work as hard as possible to make sure our legislators do too. See you in 2019.
Lori Haas is the Virginia state director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.