Susan Ahern is a freelance writer in Midlothian, Va.
The threat of gun violence can affect our children in unexpected ways.
This past fall, my 15-year-old daughter came flying down the steps near midnight, agitated about a book, “The Hate U Give” by Angie Thomas. The novel focuses on an African American teen who witnesses a white policeman’s hair-trigger shooting of her unarmed best friend. He had reached for his hair brush and ended up dead.
My daughter is biracial; her best friend is a black male. She’s worried about him. I get her concern: “Young Black men and boys are over 21 times more likely to be murdered by firearm than their non-Hispanic White counterparts,” according to the Educational Fund to Stop Gun Violence.
When the movie version of the novel came out, I took my daughter and another of her friends. I’ll never forget seeing two teen girls sobbing, arms wrapped around each other.
But children’s terror of gun rampages and gun-related crimes matters little in Virginia. I’ve witnessed public-safety gun bills defeated in Republican-controlled General Assembly subcommittees for years. I’ve seen families of gun victims plead for new laws. I’ve watched Republican legislators ask for a moment of silence, turn away from victims’ families and vote down the exact gun laws families begged for.
This past General Assembly session was no different, even though Virginia’s lax gun laws make it the No. 1 source of guns involved in crimes for New York City — and crimes in Virginia’s own neighborhoods.
Voters are urging Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to do something big on racial reconciliation. He could start with guns. How about requiring gun companies and users to pay for some of the damage that firearms inflict on Virginia residents, especially in communities of color?
It’s a big task, but Virginia governors have undertaken big ideas before. Recall that in 2009, then-Gov. Tim Kaine (D) went big — bravely banning smoking in bars and restaurants, though Virginia’s tobacco trade dates to the 1600s and PhilipMorris USA has headquarters here.
According to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, researchers conservatively estimate that gun violence costs Americans at least $229 billion annually, including emergency medical care. (More than two-thirds of gunshot victims, the Trace estimates, are covered by Medicaid or don’t have insurance.) There are costs to running institutions: emergency services, hospitals, courts, jails, prisons. Gun violence adds to these societal costs.
Outrageously, firearms companies and gun users pay for little of this. A federal excise tax on retail-store guns of 10 to 11 percent, depending on weapon type, mainly goes for hunter training and wildlife restoration. Federal taxes protect the Wood Duck but not Amiya Moses, a 12-year-old who dreamed of dancing and singing but was shot dead outside a Richmond apartment complex in 2015.
To further protect Virginia’s taxpayers, gun users, like drivers, should be required to carry liability insurance in case gun owners improperly store guns and they’re stolen. Mandatory reporting of lost or stolen guns, accompanied by fines, would help recoup law enforcement and medical costs if stolen or improperly stored guns end up being used in a crimesQ: .
Virginians are accustomed to impact fees and taxes: gasoline taxes, tire disposal fees, etc. Virginia requires no permit to purchase firearms, even assault weapons. A permit to carry a concealed handgun costs only $50, though handguns flood communities of color — causing most neighborhood crime and putting many residents at risk. Introducing permits to purchase and licenses to possess firearms, as seven states do, and adding impact fees would help offset the astonishing cost of gun bloodshed in our commonwealth.
Recouping some costs won’t soothe the emotional toll of gun violence. However, revenue raised from firearms impact/user fees could target trafficking profits (which fuel neighborhood shootings) and sponsor programs for at-risk kids, helping break the generational cycle of gun violence. Revenue could fund gun-violence-prevention ads (similar to the anti-tobacco ads that reduced medical costs) or replenish victims’ funds.
There’s no better place to stand up to the firearms industry than in Virginia’s capital. In Richmond alone, violence, overwhelmingly from guns, ended the lives of 56 people in 2018 and 67 people in 2017. A recent Global Strategy Group poll (commissioned by the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee) shows Democrats are on track to take back the Virginia General Assembly this November. If so, it will be the best time in decades to enact gun reform.
Gov. Northam, the time for words has passed. Please go big and brave on guns.