The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Opinion Virginia voters have spoken: It’s time to pass gun-safety legislation

A gun-control advocate holds a sign at the Remembrance and Change vigil outside the National Rifle Association headquarters in Fairfax on Aug. 5. (Michael A. McCoy for The Washington Post) (Micahel A. McCoy/For The Washington Post)

John J. Bell, a Democrat, represents Loudoun in the Virginia House of Delegates and is a Virginia state senator-elect.

Virginia was once considered the National Rifle Association’s turf, but last week’s election shows that the gun lobby no longer has the home-team advantage in the commonwealth.

Gun safety was the top voting issue for Virginians this year, and voters turned out in force to break the NRA’s grip on Virginia politics. Virginians elected leaders with the courage to set aside partisan politics and find solutions that will keep our families safe. Now, it’s time for us to get to work, because addressing the United States’ gun-violence epidemic has never been more urgent.

Before my career brought me to the House of Delegates and now to the Senate, I traveled the world serving my country in the Air Force. My 26 years of military service took me to Iraq and Afghanistan, war-torn countries where parents dream of a safer future for their children while living with the constant, visceral fear of losing them to violence. The fear of being shot and killed as you go about your daily life is a cruel and horrible fact of living in a war zone. But increasingly, it’s become a fear Americans grapple with here at home.

On the campaign trail, I met people who live in fear of being shot and killed at the mall, at the movies, at their place of worship or at work. Families fear being hit by stray bullets in their own neighborhoods. Parents put their children on the bus in the morning wondering if they will be safe at school.

All of it takes a toll. More than 1,000 Virginians lose their lives to gun violence each year. Gun violence is an epidemic that’s ravaging our biggest cities and our smallest towns, and we must do something to stop it.

As my colleagues and I roll up our sleeves to get to work in the Senate, we know what works: Background checks on all gun sales are the foundation of any serious gun-violence-prevention strategy. And laws that keep guns out of the hands of people who shouldn’t have them, including domestic abusers and people in crisis, can prevent tragedies before they happen.

But the majority-Republican General Assembly this summer refused to take action on a single piece of legislation during a special session on guns despite the mass shooting in Virginia Beach that killed 12 and wounded at least four.

They have learned a hard truth at the ballot box. Virginians want effective laws and policies, not mere thoughts and prayers. Most of all, Virginians don’t want to wonder whether their families will be safe as they go about their daily lives.

And while there are many polarizing issues in the United States right now, gun-violence prevention isn’t one of them. Nearly 90 percent of Americans support policies such as background checks on all gun sales and red-flag legislation, and the grass-roots gun violence prevention movement counts many gun owners among its ranks.

The time has come for the General Assembly to listen to Virginians. And I pledge to do just that by voting for strong gun-safety laws. The days of Virginia lawmakers blocking common-sense gun laws to please the NRA are over. The new gun-safety majority will make Virginia safer for all of our families.

John Bell is a senator-elect in Virginia’s State Senate. He was elected to Virginia’s House of Delegates in 2015.