Last Wednesday, my daughter Alison was brutally struck down in the prime of her life by a deranged gunman. Since then, I have stated in numerous interviews with local, national and international media that I plan to make my life’s work trying to implement effective and reasonable safeguards against this happening again.
In recent years we have witnessed similar tragedies unfold on TV: the shooting of a congresswoman in Arizona, the massacre of schoolchildren in Connecticut and of churchgoers in South Carolina. We have to ask ourselves: What do we need to do to stop this insanity?
In my case, the answer is: “Whatever it takes.”
I plan to devote all of my strength and resources to seeing that some good comes from this evil. I am entering this arena with open eyes. I realize the magnitude of the force that opposes sensible and reasonable safeguards on the purchase of devices that have a single purpose: to kill.
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That means we must focus our attention on the legislators who are responsible for America’s criminally weak gun laws; laws that facilitate the access dangerous individuals have to firearms on a daily basis.
Legislators such as Rep. Bob Goodlatte, R-Virginia, who represents Roanoke, where the shooting of my daughter and her colleague Adam Ward took place on live television. In his more than two years as chairman of the Judiciary Committee, Goodlatte has had plenty of opportunity to bring up universal background check legislation and other gun violence prevention bills. He has refused to lead on this issue, and he has done absolutely nothing to help contain the carnage we are seeing.
On the other hand, Goodlatte had no problem cashing his check from the National Rifle Association during the 2014 election cycle. Shame on him.
At the state level, we are talking about legislators such as Virginia state Sens. John S. Edwards, Democrat, who represents the area where Alison and Adam lived, and William Stanley Jr., Republican, who represents my home district.
Edwards’ district also contains the Virginia Tech campus, so he is fully aware of how easy it is for dangerously mentally ill individuals to acquire guns in the commonwealth of Virginia. Yet he has been a constant opponent of sensible gun reforms, such as expanded background checks, during his nearly 20 years in the state senate, breaking ranks constantly with his colleagues in Virginia’s Democratic Party.
This year, Edwards and Stanley had the opportunity to cast a vote for SB 1429, a bill sponsored by Sen. George Barker, Democrat, that would have instituted a gun violence restraining order policy in Virginia. The GVRO is a life-saving reform that allows family members and/or law enforcement to petition a judge to temporarily remove firearms from an individual in crisis.
The policy was first enacted in California after the tragic mass shooting in Isla Vista last year. The parents of Elliot Rodger, the gunman in that case, had requested a welfare check on their son because they believed he was a potential threat. Law enforcement officers did the check but had no authority to remove Rodger’s firearms from his home. The results were disastrous. Lives were taken for no good reason; certainly no reason our Founding Fathers would have supported.
To California legislators’ credit, they wasted no time in taking decisive action to prevent the next tragedy. Yet when Edwards and Stanley had a game-changing opportunity to vote on a similar GVRO policy in Virginia, they elected to serve their gun lobby masters and voted no. Shame on them.
Of course we have no way of knowing whether a bill like this would have made a difference in Alison’s and Adam’s case. We don’t know if the family of shooter Vester Flanagan II was aware of a problem. Nor do we know whether removing firearms would have just prompted him to use something else.
The weekend before she died, Alison was rafting on the Nantahala River in North Carolina with her mother; her boyfriend, Chris; her close friend Katy; and me. It was her favorite place on Earth. She was a brilliant kayaker and it was a family tradition she relished. We told each other often the mantra all paddlers must keep in mind while fighting the force of the rapid water:
“Never stop paddling. You just have to paddle through the rapids. You just have to paddle through.”
Whatever it takes.
The writer lives near Martinsville, Virginia.