Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Virginia prays -- and votes -- to stop gun violence -- Nov. 9, 2017 column


After the latest mass shooting, President Donald Trump and GOP politicians, including Virginia gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, once again sent their thoughts and prayers to victims and their families.

It was, as always, too soon to talk about gun policy, they agreed.

But with 26 dead and 20 more wounded in Sutherland Springs, Texas, last Sunday, just 35 days after a shooting massacre in Las Vegas claimed 58 lives, prayer, while comforting, wasn’t enough for many Americans.  

“Let’s not pray,” the Rev. Robert C. Wright, Episcopal bishop of the Diocese of Atlanta, said in a Facebook post widely circulated on social media.

“Please do not invite me to pray in response to the horror of Sutherland Springs, Texas, unless it is to pray courage over elected officials who intend to work for the ban of automatic and semi-automatic weapons,” he said.

People feel powerless following gun violence; it’s human nature to want to respond and fix things, said comedian and social commentator Stephen Colbert.

“Five thousand years ago, if your village had a tiger coming into it every day and was eating people, you wouldn’t do nothing. You would move the village, you would build a fence or you would kill the tiger,” Colbert said on the Late Show Monday.

“You wouldn’t say, `Well, I guess someone’s gonna get eaten every day because the price of liberty is tigers.’ You take some action,” he said. “You can go vote. Vote for someone who will do something.”

Most Americans must wait for congressional mid-term elections next year to vote. So all eyes Tuesday were on state races in Virginia and New Jersey.

In Virginia, whose lax gun laws have supplied weapons to criminals from Baltimore to New York City, voters had a clear choice for governor between Democrat Ralph Northam, who advocates tougher guns laws, and Gillespie, a strong ally of the NRA.

After the Texas shooting, Gillespie was on Fox News talking about prayer for victims and his “A” rating and endorsement from the NRA.

Northam has said thoughts and prayers aren’t enough. Proud of his “F” rating from the NRA, he called for universal background checks for gun buyers, an assault weapons ban and smaller ammunition clips. He promised to reinstate the one-gun-a-month limit on gun purchases.  

Northam beat Gillespie 54 to 45 percent.

To be sure, gun policy was only one issue in the campaign, but it was a significant factor. When asked to rank five issues, voters cited health care first by a wide margin, followed by gun policy as No. 2. Those who chose gun policy as their top issue split evenly between Northam and Gillespie.  

But among voters with a gun in their home, 37 percent voted for Northam, as did 73 percent of those who didn’t own guns.  

“We as a society need to stand up and say it’s time to take action and stop talking,” Northam said at a forum in October.

He had the support of Americans for Responsible Solutions, the gun control group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords who was shot in her home district in Arizona, and the Everytown for Gun Safety Action Group, funded by former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

Northam campaigned with Lori Haas, whose daughter survived being shot twice at Virginia Tech in 2007. Haas is state director of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

Gillespie promised to uphold Second Amendment rights and to reverse the ban on guns in state government buildings imposed by Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe. Four years ago, McAuliffe touted his “F” rating from the NRA, as did Tim Kaine when he won his race for governor.

Recounts in several districts will determine which party controls the House, but Democrats already have erased much of the Republican advantage with the election of political newcomers.

Among them is Chris Hurst of the Blacksburg area, who said the fatal shooting of his fiancée, fellow journalist Alison Parker, on live television two years ago was one reason he entered politics.

Virginians showed Tuesday voters can choose prayers and policy. They’re counting on Northam and the General Assembly to deliver concrete action to stop gun violence, and the nation will be watching.  

©2017 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.


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