Ralph Northam, a Democrat, is the governor of Virginia.
After decades of working in emergency rooms and intensive care units, I’ve learned how to keep my emotions in check and get the job done.
We all have experiences that fundamentally shape who we are, that change the way we look at the world and what we work toward every day.
For me, those experiences have come through my work as an Army doctor, my 30 years as a pediatrician, my time as a children’s hospice director and my role as governor of a state that is losing more than 1,000 people a year to gun violence.
Early in my career, I served in the Army. I took care of wounded soldiers in Operation Desert Storm, and I saw what weapons of war do to human beings.
As a pediatrician I’ve taken care of toddlers — 3-, 4- and 5-year-olds — who picked up loaded weapons off the bedside table.
And I’ve been the one who has had to sit with those toddlers in my arms, without breath in their bodies, and tell their parents that they won’t be going home.
One of my favorite patients was a girl named Katie, whom I started caring for when she was very young. She grew up to be an intelligent and accomplished young woman and married and had a child. One night, Katie’s husband pulled out a revolver and shot her dead in front of her 5-month-old baby. Her mother called me that night to tell me she was gone. That is still one of the most difficult calls I have ever had to take.
On May 31, around 4 in the afternoon, I was told there had been a mass shooting in Virginia Beach. The number of dead kept climbing as we drove to the emergency operations center. By the end of the night, 12 precious lives had been lost. All of those people had gotten up that morning and gone to work, expecting to leave that night and go home to their families. That didn’t happen. Their lives were taken senselessly.
A few days after the Virginia Beach tragedy, I spoke at the funeral of Markiya Dickson, a 9-year-old girl who was shot and killed while playing with her friends in a Richmond park. Her father stood at the pulpit with his daughter lying in a casket. He spoke about what a wonderful young girl she was, how her favorite color was pink and how everybody at school loved her. And then he said something I will never forget. He said, “We shouldn’t be here.”
The truth is that no one should.
As a father, I don’t want another father to have to bury his child.
As a doctor, I don’t want another doctor to have to tell parents that their loved one will never come home.
And as a governor, I don’t want another governor to get that call about a mass shooting or have to speak at a funeral for a precious 9-year-old girl killed by guns.
On Tuesday, I asked the General Assembly to do something about it. I asked lawmakers to address the emergency of gun violence in Virginia. I asked them to show their constituents and our country that despite our differences, we can come together to save lives.
Legislators came to Richmond Tuesday, but after just 90 minutes, Republican legislators voted to adjourn until November — without hearing any bills, without having any debates and without taking any action to address the crisis of gun violence.
That’s not what they were elected for.
They were not elected to punt or dismiss important issues. They were elected to weigh ideas and discuss differences. Regardless of whether folks agree on solutions, they were elected to take these votes. I expected better of them. I knew better than to think there would be an easy agreement, but I did expect our elected representatives to treat serious issues with respect, not contempt.
I appreciate all the families who came to Richmond on Tuesday to try to make their voices heard. We were all disappointed with the outcome. But this debate is not over. It is painfully clear that the issue of gun violence is not going away. And we will not stop working to find solutions to prevent these tragedies from taking more lives.