This year has been incredibly difficult for families across Virginia and the country. But in the past week alone, families in Virginia Beach, Atlanta, Boulder and countless other cities and towns have suffered the added pain of losing a loved one after they were shot.
Every time I see news of yet another shooting, I am brought immediately back to the horror of the day in my twenties when a friend was violently shot in Petersburg and nearly lost his life. I remember thinking about how innocent and unaware he was just before he was shot. In an instant, he was so close to death. It was haunting, and something I will never forget. Luckily, he survived, but too many in communities like mine across this Commonwealth and the country don’t.
Just last weekend, I received word that steps from my childhood home, a 17-year-old boy was shot, and he died. That 17-year-old boy in Petersburg thought he would see his family again, live a fulfilling life, and grow old. But a gunshot ended his life on Friday, just steps away from where I grew up and where my family still lives.
The grief these families are experiencing is too familiar in this country. The pain they’re feeling from preventable deaths is now common, with thousands of shootings every year. So many of these deaths don’t make the headlines — but they’re the ones that have been occupying my mind since I was a kid in Petersburg.
What concerns me, perhaps even more than the grief, is that at some point, people start to become numb to these tragedies, especially when they happen in Black communities. We’re facing so much trauma from continuously losing our friends, our family members, and fellow Virginians.
Numbness can’t be our reality. Trauma can’t be our norm. Action must be our answer. And we have to tackle this issue from all sides.
I fought hard for real reforms as a Delegate to make our communities safer, in honor of my friend who nearly lost his life and in honor of all Virginians affected by gun violence. I proudly co-sponsored legislation to close the gun show loophole, so that background checks are now required for any firearm transfers. I also supported legislation for the temporary separation of firearms from those who pose a danger to themselves or others, as well as legislation to bolster community awareness of missing firearms by requiring a firearm that has been lost or stolen to be reported within 48 hours.
But more needs to be done. The gun deaths I saw in Petersburg are similar to the deaths Black folks witness in cities across the country, and they largely take the lives of Black men. In fact, according to the Giffords Law Center, Black men are less than 10 percent of our population in Virginia, but make up over 60 percent of gun death victims. To prevent these deaths and acts of violence, as Governor I will prioritize community violence intervention initiatives, working with local leaders and community members to reach out to those likely to be involved in an act of violence. I’ll also focus on passing legislation to get illegal guns off our streets. These efforts will help the Commonwealth treat gun violence as the public health emergency that it is.
Virginia is also home to significant and horrific mass shootings, including the Virginia Tech tragedy when a mass murderer used his assault rifles to gun down dozens. It’s unconscionable that we still don’t have an assault weapons ban in place in Virginia — we must end the use of weapons of war being used in our communities against our community members. As Governor, I will push to ban the sale of assault style weapons within Virginia, and those purchased outside of the state, and close background check loopholes on the transfer of firearms.
In these moments, it is so difficult to hold on to hope. To remember that with the right leaders who have the political will to shake up the broken status quo, progress is possible. As Governor, I am committed to standing up to the gun lobby and fighting for full, transformational change. We were able to get so much done under Governor Northam’s leadership, and we can’t stop now. Let’s work together to get it done.