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Opinion Doing nothing on guns is no longer an option

Lisa Dunaway, center, holds hands with other mourners during a vigil in response to a shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach on June 1.
Lisa Dunaway, center, holds hands with other mourners during a vigil in response to a shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach on June 1. (Patrick Semansky/Associated Press)

David W. Marsden, a Democrat, represents Fairfax in the Virginia Senate.

I support the right of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms for protection and for responsible recreational use. I also support well-regulated concealed weapons. That said, the underlying principle of Virginia law with regard to firearms is to keep them out of the hands of felons, those adjudicated as mentally ill, as well as children unsupervised by adults.

I have spent my career working in the juvenile justice system as a probation officer, secure detention superintendent and chief deputy and acting director of Virginia’s Department of Juvenile Justice. I have been exposed to numerous gun-related incidents that never made the news but convinced me that our possession and use of firearms must be thoughtfully regulated.

Mass shootings are a national nightmare, but they pale in comparison with the number of people who are shot in anger, by accident or through suicide because guns are so easily accessible.

On Gun Lobby Day each year, I am visited by members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. They are all good people and see themselves as responsible gun owners. However, none of them knows whether they or a member of their family will one day use their guns inappropriately or unlawfully. The 12-year-old who would never touch the family firearm is far different from that same child who is 15, emotionally disturbed, angry and drug-addicted in a family that is at war with itself. The responsible social drinker at age 25 cannot foresee a day when he or she is a problem drinker and a domestic abuser. Nor can a family predict that depression could lead to the suicide of a beloved wife and mother. Many times, an unsecured gun is the cause of an accidental shooting, usually involving a child. Responsible gun owners often think these things won’t happen to them. But they do.

I have had too many conversations with parents whose children were in the juvenile justice system, and whose first words were, “But he’s never touched that gun before; we don’t understand.”

Trust me, that is something I do understand.

The fear that guns will be taken away if we begin the process of regulating them more appropriately is irrational. When we denied felons and the mentally ill the right to own firearms, it did not lead to gun confiscation. The Constitution does not make exceptions to the Second Amendment for felons and the mentally ill. We did that through laws, and I have never met anyone who disagrees. Why can we not continue to improve our regulation of legal guns to ensure everyone’s safety?

We must regulate our firearms effectively and appropriately without interfering with the basic American right of gun ownership. It is not easy, but it must be done. I have spoken with a number of thoughtful people who have sent emails. There is much common ground. The only thing lacking is a commitment to get something done. It is my belief that the time has come.

Doing nothing is no longer an option.

Read more:

Jay Dickey: How to protect gun rights while reducing the toll of gun violence

The Post’s View: Voters’ message in the midterms was enough is enough on guns

The Post’s View: The ground is shifting on gun control. Vermont is a sign.

The Post’s View: The public has spoken on gun control. Don’t wait for the White House.

Michael McBride: The young voices we aren’t hearing in the gun-control debate