We are barely two months into the new year and multiple states, several cities and countless communities have already been burdened with the trauma of mass shootings. January consisted of multiple in California — including one in Monterey Park, Calif. which killed 11 people and two more in Half Moon Bay, Calif. which killed seven. Tuesday — exactly three months after second-year College student Devin Chandler, fourth-year College student D’Sean Perry and third-year College student Lavel Davis Jr. died in a shooting on Grounds — there was a mass shooting at Michigan State University in which three students were killed. Five are in critical condition. While these tragedies in and of themselves are senseless and devastating, the continued failure by federal legislators to enact sensible gun reform is equal in ignorance and ludicrosity. We do not have time to spare — and we never did. Tuesday’s mass shooting in East Lansing is a horrific reminder of that. As the federal system continues to fail us, state legislatures must be proactive and pass legislation that will create stricter and smarter gun laws in order to protect our safety as citizens.
Uvalde, Texas., Highland Park, Ill and now East Lansing, Mi. are all places that might come to mind when thinking of gun-related deaths from the past year. But what about Centerville, Tx., Inman, Sc. or Chesapeake, Va.? Or perhaps in Newport News, Va. — my hometown — where a six-year-old boy brought his mother’s gun to school and shot his teacher? Even if these sound familiar, it would be impossible to recall details surrounding the remaining 600 mass shootings that occurred in 2022, as well as the additional 67 we have had since the start of the new year. Our society — citizens, media and our representatives alike — has become so accustomed to gun violence that these tragedies enter our periphery and then exit without any sort of legislative abatement.
The issue of how to proceed with gun laws in Congress should not be a partisan one — especially given that a majority of constituents support stricter gun safety measures and rank gun safety as a top concern. It is lost on me how a room full of elected officials fails to recognize the urgency of this situation and act accordingly. Congress begins its new term divided, meaning it will be increasingly difficult to pass legislation. We have already seen petty partisan debacles or 15 rounds of voting take up precious time that members should be using to do their job. Each new flavor of the week detracts Congress’s attention from urgent, pressing issues that their constituents elected them to try and solve. While it is the civic duty of both the public and media to hold legislators accountable, it is the responsibility of our representatives to then listen and take action.
This is not to say that the federal government has completely gone without making progress in gun reform. President Joe Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law this past summer — a package that provides subsidies for state crisis intervention programs and closes the boyfriend loophole. Senate Democrats drafted legislation that would ban military-style weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as raise the minimum gun-buying age to 21 — though it currently rests dormant in committee. While these measures are beneficial, more must be done by federal policymakers, like mandating universal background checks on all gun sales, waiting periods and secure gun storage. But given Congress’s current state, it would be naive to assume these solutions would be met with swift, collective action from its members. State legislatures cannot follow in the footsteps of Congress — they must take the reins of this deadly epidemic of gun violence and work toward feasible, actionable solutions.
Representatives in Virginia have an opportunity in this session to do just that. Sen. Creigh Deeds has introduced a bill that recently passed the Senate that would essentially close the loophole that allows the possession of a firearm on public college campuses in Virginia. University Police Chief Tim Longo has rallied for the signage of this bill in Richmond following November’s shooting. If this bill is passed, campus law enforcements will have the grounds to obtain a search warrant for illegal possession of firearms — something that they are currently barred from doing. This revision to current Virginia law, while seemingly simple, is a step in the right direction in protecting students, communities and entire cities from unwarranted gun violence. It should serve as a reminder for all state legislators that just because Congress has failed the American public does not mean they have to do the same.
Although Sen. Deeds has begun this fight toward progress and safety for Virginians, the House has not followed suit. After passing the Senate Feb. 7, his bill currently sits in a House subcommittee, whose members recommended laying it on the table. Essentially, the subcommittee is trying to kill the bill without the formalities of taking a vote — placing yet another barrier between gun reform and a safer Virginia. By failing to pass Sen. Deeds’ bill — which has both support from the Senate and even Gov. Glenn Youngkin — the House is continuing to leave communities at risk from unwarranted gun violence. State legislatures have the opportunity this term to do what the current Congress cannot — produce actionable policy decisions. But in order to do so, they need to put their own interests aside and instead actually do their job — by representing the needs of their constituents.
It can become routine to read the news each day, see all the destruction and chaos, mourn for a few moments and then continue on with life. It can be easy to dehumanize and remove oneself from the sheer despair these events inflict, especially when you have no direct connection to them. It can be easy to just send thoughts and prayers. To say you have not personally been affected by gun violence is to be blessed. Those in Monterey Park cannot say the same. Those attending MSU cannot say the same. I cannot say the same. And though statistics will only tell of those who died or those who were injured, they fail to capture the unimaginable amount of lives affected by the senseless reality of death’s cold, unpredictable grip. As a 21-year old college student, this is not something I should have to write about — let alone experience. I should not have to go to bed to the sounds of sirens outside my window, and wake up to the news that more lives have been lost. To those with any semblance of political influence — I urge you to use your power to employ solutions that will prevent future tragedies. To those in Monterey Park, East Lansing and those like me — I plead that peace finds you, and that one day you might see there is space here for a safer tomorrow.