More than 100 people filled the McLean Community Center May 13 to hear from local residents and national gun control groups who both say they are frustrated with the shortcomings of gun control laws, both nationally and in Virginia.
“I wish I could tell you that Virginia is a state we could all be proud of, but in terms of gun safety I cannot,” said Martina Leinz, head of the Burke-based Northern Virginia chapter of the Million Moms March. “I have spent 13 years trying to make representatives realize that if you are going to represent people, you have to protect them. It has nothing to do with politics and everything to do with public safety.”
According to Leinz, nearly 50 percent of all guns purchased nationwide are done so without background checks, including many sold at Virginia gun shows. Virginia law requires only licensed dealers to perform background checks on gun show buyers.
Legislative efforts attempting to extend that requirement to private sellers have been shot down for years in the Virginia General Assembly, including one just this past January.
For the May 13 event, McLean’s Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence put together a panel of speakers that included Colin Goddard of The Brady Center, Karen Marangi of Mayors Against Illegal Guns, Peter Ambler of Gabby Giffords’ Americans for Responsible Solutions, and Martina Leinz of Million Moms March.
Chief among the recurring themes that ran through all of the speakers’ comments was the increased commitment of grassroots efforts against gun violence that have grown across the country as a result of last year’s Newtown, Conn. massacre
The forum started off with Fairfax County residents speaking briefly about why they are so passionate about the issue.
Among local resident speakers were a Libertarian who gave conservative reasons for gun reform, and a Republican mother concerned for the safety of her children.
Fairfax resident Jim Lynch identified himself as conservative, independent and Libertarian, but also a strong advocate of gun regulation. “I do not see the second amendment as an absolute right,” he said. “The right to life is the ultimate right.” Ruth Hoffman of McLean, a self-described Republican who grew up in Kansas, said the Newtown tragedy really brought home to her the importance of gun law reform.
“After Newtown I became ashamed of my Republican Party and its talking points on this issue,” she said. “I also regret not feeling that way sooner.”
Hoffman said that on January 2, only weeks after the massacre, her first-grader’s elementary school went into a lockdown, causing her to fear for the worst. “It turned out to be due to a nearby police search for a robbery suspect,” she said. “But I don’t want to have to ever feel that way again.”
Colin Goddard of The Brady Center was a student at Virgina Tech when the massacre there occurred in 2007. He was shot four times, but survived.
“Surprisingly, that was not what made me get involved,” he said. “It was what I saw happen afterwards. The Binghamton, New York shooting on April 3, 2009 was the first shooting I saw after my Virginia Tech experience, and I thought to myself that no one should ever have that type of experience.”
Goddard said he has been a gun control advocate ever since, but said that by the fall of 2012, he was frustrated with the lack of public concern.
“I didn’t know how else to get people to embrace this issue. I was almost ready to give up and go back to graduate school, but then the Newtown tragedy happened and there was a flood of attention.”
Goddard said that despite the recent momentum, public pressure on elected officials is needed now more than ever. “Keep your voices alive in the offices of your representatives,” he said. “And keep track of their voting records.”
The McLean-based Concerned Citizens Against Gun Violence noted that the voting record of Delegates from Northern Virginia can be researched on its website at: http://concernedcitizensva.org/?page_id=122.