Virginia is for (gun)lovers.
There’s no other way to explain it.
Because 12 years after the Virginia Tech massacre — the worst mass shooting on a campus in American history — gun control remains on the back burner in a state that is now reeling from another tragedy.
On Friday, 12 people were killed by a co-worker turned mass shooter at the Virginia Beach municipal complex. The city engineer was armed with two legally purchased .45-caliber pistols. At least one of them was outfitted with a sound suppressor and extended magazine.
We’ve experienced this kind of horror before, but it hasn’t led to any real change in the Old Dominion.
“It has been incredibly frustrating,” said Andrew Goddard, whose son was shot at Virginia Tech on April 16, 2007, while he was in French class. He was not one of the 32 people killed by Seung Hui Cho, 23, the student who unleashed a lethal, 10-minute rampage.
Colin Goddard was among the 17 who survived but had to learn to walk all over again. Some of the bullets remained in his body, and, today, he struggles with severe health problems that include lead poisoning.
Father and son have been fighting for gun control ever since. They thought they could do something to change the way Virginia regulates gun purchases. They thought they could save lives. But the gun rights advocates have made that impossible.
“After 12 general sessions, back to back, no progress, we’ve managed to fight to a draw,” said Andrew Goddard, who attends every legislative session. “We got nothing, and they got nothing.”
Now, we’ve got another horrific shooting — this time at a workplace instead of a school.
Lots of offices have turned to active-shooter drills, though relatively few use metal detectors.
But the truth is, a colleague intent on doing his fellow employees harm is only one security-card swipe away from his plan.
This is especially easy in Virginia, where the state’s liberal concealed-carry law makes it totally kosher for anyone with a license to pack heat in an office, a government building, a concert, or the Starbucks on Richmond Highway, where I was in line behind a guy who was clearly armed.
Some counties in Virginia are actually going out of their way to make sure more folks can walk around armed. King William County just reduced the cost of a five-year concealed-carry permit from $50 to $15. The county board of supervisors did this last month, according to the Virginia Gazette, right after a gun advocate group asked them to.
So more guns are everywhere in Virginia because, as the Virginia-headquartered NRA argument goes, more good guys with guns will stop the bad guys with guns.
“That argument is completely and utterly ludicrous,” said Andrew Goddard, who wonders how many “who stole my lunch out of the break room” fights or “who jammed the copier” moments could lead to armed confrontations or even mass shootings.
There is no one cure for America’s gun violence crisis. But there are ways to make small changes that would make us safer.
After the Virginia Tech shootings, President George W. Bush signed the NICS Improvement Amendments Act that focused on mental-health data reporting between state and federal databases for background checks.
In Virginia, gun rights advocates swooped in to try to roll back existing laws, Goddard said.
“A number of states, even Florida, for heaven’s sake, have changed legislation” to add some restrictions, Goddard said. “The gunshine state Florida turned around and did something after Parkland.”
Three weeks after the massacre of 17 people in Parkland, Gov. Rick Scott signed into law the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act. It banned bump stocks, raised the age to purchase a gun and gave judges the power to let police ban gun ownership for up to a year by someone deemed to be dangerous.
“Connecticut did something about it, too,” Goddard said.
After 20 first-graders were killed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012, the state reformed its gun law, banning more than 150 gun models and the sale of gun magazines with a capacity of more than 10 rounds. The state also requires a permit to buy a gun or ammo.
In Virginia? The cowboys in the legislature killed a bill in January that would have banned large-capacity magazines like the kind that the Virginia Beach shooter used.
Maybe this makes sense in a deep-red rural state like Idaho or Kentucky.
But why would Virginia, a well-educated state that is home to America’s wealthiest counties and a growing tech sector (hello, Amazon’s second headquarters!), need to be armed like the Wild West?
It may come back to culture.
“The problem with Virginia: There’s a hardheadedness about change,” Goddard said.
The 12 people being mourned this week ought to prompt the state to rethink its embrace of guns.