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Opinion Virginia’s localities finally get to take action on gun violence

Supporters of Moms Demand Action line up during a rally at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond on July 9, 2019, during a special session of the General Assembly to consider gun legislation. (Steve Helber/Associated Press)

Levar M. Stoney, a Democrat, is the mayor of Richmond.

July 1 was a historic day in Virginia. Common-sense gun-safety laws went into effect, and local officials across Virginia are all better equipped to protect our communities. Included in the slate of gun-safety legislation signed by the governor in April is a law that empowers local officials to keep guns out of places they shouldn’t be. It’s our responsibility as public servants to take action and push for measures that will keep our cities, towns and counties safe from gun violence.  

Local officials are in the best position to understand the gun violence our communities are grappling with. In 2019, the death of 9-year-old Markiya Dickson, a young girl just trying to enjoy time in a public park with her family, served as a painful, sobering reminder of how far we have to go in keeping all our communities safe. This Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Richmond, we saw armed protests against gun-safety laws, leaving community members feeling helpless and overrun in their own city. Meanwhile, daily gun violence continues across our nation, much of which hits Black and Brown community members harder than their White neighbors.  

As we work to address these issues, I’m proud to say that Richmond immediately implemented Virginia’s new law. Just a year ago, we passed two ordinances to promote gun safety in Richmond: one to require the reporting of lost or stolen firearms, and a second to prohibit guns in municipal parks and buildings. However, we were not able to enforce the second until the state took action. The legislature recognized the importance of empowering localities to take action. Because of their commitment, that second ordinance took effect in Richmond on July 1.

This work should not be limited to Richmond; the entire commonwealth has seen the effects of gun violence. In Blacksburg, an international community of Hokies continues to feel the pain of a 2007 shooting. In Virginia Beach, families were forever changed when an armed man shot and killed 12 people in a municipal building just last year. In Alexandria, we saw an individual carrying an assault weapon through a farmers market. Throughout Virginia, armed residents have flooded municipal buildings to call for meaningless resolutions sidestepping the rule of law, all while local officials had few options to protect the public. It’s imperative other mayors, city council members and county board members consider taking similar steps to keep guns out of Virginia’s sensitive places in their communities.  

Virginia’s new law allows local officials to protect residents by keeping guns out of shared municipal spaces — spaces that should be havens of service and community, not threatening or dangerous.

It allows local officials to prohibit carrying firearms into city-owned or -operated parks and buildings and permitted events. As a community, we have an obligation to do all we can to protect our friends and neighbors from gun violence. Parents should not have to worry about guns being carried in the local park where they bring their children to play. People should not fear for their lives simply for going to a parade. Local officials must have the ability to keep guns out of the places in their communities where they pose a risk, and this law is a first step in granting local governments that authority.

For too long, the gun lobby had a stranglehold on the commonwealth, made possible by the millions of dollars dedicated to defending guns, not Virginians’ lives. This truth was evident in the lobby’s toxic effect on gun laws. It barred elected officials from taking steps to prevent gun violence, a severe overstep that put lives in jeopardy. But, last year, Virginians who were tired of the Fairfax County-based National Rifle Association’s rule over our laws took their anger to the ballot box and made it clear they wanted common-sense gun safety. Because of the determination of the majority of Virginians to push lawmakers to strengthen gun laws, local officials can take action to make our communities safer.

  Thanks to the tireless work of gun-safety advocates in the commonwealth, local officials now have their hands untied and can regain the authority to take action and prohibit guns in places where they do not belong. It’s time to act on the concerns of Virginians and propose ordinances that keep families and children safe from gun violence.

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