RICHMOND, Va. — Ahead of a special session on gun control, called by Gov. Ralph Northam, Virginia’s Junior Senator spoke with families who have lost ones to gun violence about what they want to be done in Richmond and Washington.
Shots still ring in Mark Whitfield’s ears. The pain of losing his daughter, Markiya Dickson, 9, in a shooting at Carter Jones Park over Memorial Day weekend is still felt every day.
“We still cry every morning,” Whitfield said. “We still cry every night when we go to sleep.”
A little boy was also shot but has since recovered from his injury. His family, along with Markiya’s parents, Whitfield and Ciara Dickson, went to a roundtable held by Sen. Tim Kaine (D-Virginia) in Richmond Monday.
Many spoke about the need for personal responsibility to stop the violence – not just legislation – and for the community to get involved by watching out for people who may turn violent. The hope, for Whitfield, would be to help them before something bad happens.
“It’s got to start with the people. It doesn’t start with the gun, the gun – it takes a person to pick up a gun and shoot somebody,” Whitfield said. “It’s not on the police, the governor, the mayor, none of them. We gotta start at home first. Then we can branch out to them.”
In a previous interview, Whitfield said he saw what the special session called for, it made him feel like somebody was finally paying attention to the problem of gun violence, and that in some way, his daughter’s memory will live on.
Others at the roundtable expressed concerns about Northam’s proposals, saying they may prevent Virginians from protecting themselves.
“It’s a pathway towards government gaining control of people,” Bret Stauffer, of Henrico County, said.
A local psychiatrist also said the Second Amendment, the right to bear arms in the Constitution, empowers women in domestic violence situations to defend themselves from harm, and she would not support any laws that would take away those rights.
Sen. Kaine assures regulations being worked on in Richmond and Washington wouldn’t stop people from having guns.
“We all stand by the Second Amendment, we all take an oath to uphold the Second Amendment,” he explained. “Not a single one of these proposals that’s made by the governor violate the Second Amendment.”
In previous legislative sessions for the General Assembly, pieces of gun control legislation have not been able to drum up enough support in smaller committees, so the bills never made it to the floor for a vote with all members of each chamber, the Senate and House of Delegates. Sen. Kaine hopes debates are able to happen and each lawmaker can make their position clear to voters, during this upcoming election.
“If you listen to the people, the right thing will happen. At the end of the day, let’s have a vote and hold people accountable,” Sen. Kaine added.
Lawmakers return for the special session July 9. Any lawmaker can propose legislation. Among them, Northam’s bills include a ban on silencers and high-capacity magazines, as well as a broadening of the ability of local governments to limit guns in city buildings.
The Speaker of the House Kirk Cox says his caucus will be looking at legislation to address gun violence by “holding criminals accountable with tougher sentences — including mandatory minimums.”