The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion After the Virginia Beach shooting, let’s replace ‘thoughts and prayers’ with ‘votes and laws’

A volunteer prepares to place crosses for victims of a May 31 mass shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach at a nearby makeshift memorial. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

Eileen Filler-Corn, a Democrat, represents Fairfax Station in the Virginia House of Delegates. Dick Saslaw, a Democrat, represents Springfield in the Virginia Senate.

“The victims are in our thoughts and prayers.”

We’ve all read and even offered our own variations of this condolence after every tragic shooting that makes the headlines. All too often Virginians have felt the pain of senseless death — 12 people murdered by a co-worker in Virginia Beach; 32 students and faculty gunned down at Virginia Tech; a little girl fatally shot at a Memorial Day picnic in Richmond.

These words have lost their meaning, regardless of how well-intentioned they may be. And not every shooting makes the headlines. Every year, roughly 1,000 Virginians die from gun violence. The epidemic of gun violence is far more extensive than mass shootings alone. Keeping guns out of the wrong hands is essential to stem the bleeding.

The mass shooting in Virginia Beach this summer should be incentive for lawmakers to prevent gun violence in our communities, regardless of where we live in the commonwealth.

As elected leaders of our respective caucuses and as Virginians, we are striving to replace “thoughts and prayers” with “votes and laws.” The Virginia General Assembly has the ability and the responsibility to save lives and prevent senseless gun violence. Following the tragedy in Virginia Beach, Gov. Ralph Northam (D) took the necessary action and has called the General Assembly into a special session that starts today. We will consider a comprehensive set of bills aimed at addressing the epidemic of gun violence in Virginia.

These common-sense solutions include universal background checks, which 91 percent of Virginians support. A Boston University study published this year found that on average, the rate of firearm homicides is 58 percent higher in states without background checks than in states that require background checks. Contrary to the narrative pushed by the gun lobby, passing universal background checks in Virginia would not take guns from law-abiding citizens; rather, it would prevent individuals with a history of violence from accessing potentially deadly weapons. Furthermore, background checks often take just a few minutes to complete and would not place an undue burden on law-abiding purchasers.

In this Gun Violence Prevention Session, we will prioritize an extreme-risk protective order. Extreme-risk protective orders allow law enforcement to temporarily remove firearms from an individual who poses a risk to himself or herself or others, while the individual seeks mental health treatment. The majority of gun deaths in Virginia are suicides, and Virginia’s rate of firearm suicides is higher than the national average. Similar legislation has been signed into law in Florida and Maryland. Virginia can be a leader of this as well.

A commonality among mass shootings in the United States — including the tragedies at Virginia Tech and in Virginia Beach — is the use of high-capacity magazines, which allow a shooter to fire rapidly without having to take time to reload. High-capacity magazines, along with add-ons such as suppressors and bump stocks, effectively transform ordinary firearms into assault weapons that can inflict far more damage in a shorter time period. These weapons of war should not be readily accessible in Virginia.

Starting today, Democrats in the General Assembly will prioritize these policies, in addition to other comprehensive, common-sense solutions. Gun-violence prevention does not have to be a partisan issue. When thousands of Virginians are dying, the Virginia General Assembly needs to come together to enact meaningful reforms.

Virginians deserve action, and they deserve to see their legislators vote on solutions which prevent gun violence. Victims of gun violence and their families are in our thoughts and prayers; they should also be at the heart of our votes and laws.