Richmond Shooting a Rorschach Test for Virginia Lawmakers

Virginia Democrats sent more than two dozen gun control bills to Gov. Glenn Youngkin before this year’s legislative session gaveled to a close a few days ago. The governor has already vetoed the first two gun bills to reach his desk, and it’s expected that he’ll shoot down the other infringements adopted by the slim Democrat majority in the coming weeks, but as a Virginia resident it’s horrifying to know we’re basically one election cycle away from turning into East California or New New York when it comes to our gun laws. 

In the waning days of this year’s session there was a revealing back-and-forth between both sides in the gun control debate, prompted by a shooting at a downtown bus stop located between Richmond City Hall and Capitol Square.  

Gun violence breaking out near the doorstep of state government didn’t go unnoticed, as advocates invoked the bus stop shooting while blasting Youngkin’s lack of support for gun legislation.
“This comes on the same day as a shooting in downtown Richmond killed one person, just steps from the statehouse,” the pro-gun control group Everytown for Gun Safety said on X, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter. “Virginia voters elected a gun sense majority to take action to prevent gun violence and they listened—passing dozens of gun safety bills.”
Multiple Republican lawmakers pointedly noted that the shooting took place between two government buildings where Democratic officials have banned guns, on a bus line that also has weapon restrictions. Those rules, GOP lawmakers said, did little to stop the person who pulled the trigger and got away.
On the Senate floor, Sen. Mark Peake, R-Lynchburg, called the incident tragic and jokingly suggested the legislature consider putting up “bigger or meaner-looking” signs saying no guns allowed.
“Believe it not, this criminal with evil in his heart ignored those signs,” Peake said.

First off, gun control wasn’t the winning issue that Everytown claims it was in the 2023 elections. Heck, the gun control lobby itself ran ads that devoted more time and attention to abortion than the single issue they’re supposedly focused on. And while Democrats may have majorities in both the House and Senate, it’s a one-vote majority in both chambers; hardly evidence of a mandate, especially when several of these legislative races were decided by just a handful of votes. 

Then there’s the fact, as Republicans pointed out, that the shooting highlighted by Everytown took place in a “gun-free zone” where lawful concealed carry is forbidden (not that there’s any evidence the shooter was a licensed concealed carry holder to begin with). For anti-gunners, that’s just proof that even more gun control laws are needed. After all, the laws on the books didn’t stop this shooting, so the answer must be even more restrictions on legal gun owners. 

What the anti-gunners are ignoring (besides the Constitution and the Bill of Rights) are the nuts and bolts of policing in Richmond. The police department is understaffed by dozens of officers, and things are even worse at the local jail.

According to Sheriff Antoinette Irving, the Richmond City Justice Center is facing a critical deputy shortage.
During a public safety meeting in January, Irving said the jail is down 191 deputies out of 385 total positions. 8News spoke to a former deputy who worked at the jail.
“It didn’t feel safe. It was very obvious that there was tension,” the former deputy said. “Several staff assaults during my time there that were not good and not a fun situation whatsoever. It never felt like we had enough control over [situations], whether it was deputy assaults or inmate assaults.” 
The former deputy described the jail as an unsafe and hostile work environment.
“Staff is exhausted,” said the former deputy. “If something does happen, staff takes forever to respond to an incident because there’s not enough of them and [if] inmates have the ability to commit nefarious activities, they have that option.”

Fewer deputies in the jail means more arrestees are being quickly released and returned to the streets, even if they pose a threat to public safety or are already out on bond for previous crimes when they’re taken into custody. 

Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, meanwhile, is wasting money on gun “buybacks” instead of engaging in the kind of targeted deterrence efforts that can have a substantial impact on violent crime. 

A lack of gun control isn’t making Richmond a dangerous place, and imposing a waiting period on gun sales or banning so-called assault weapons isn’t going to make it any safer. It’s the feckless politicians who are to blame for their feckless policies, and preventing good folks from exercising their right to bear arms in self-defense is only going to make the city’s problems worse than they are today.  

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