Opinion: Ways to address gun violence in Virginia communities
Sierra Jenkins. Jahiem Dickerson. Devon Harris. Samiyah Yellardy.
These are the names of just a few of the Virginians killed by gun violence since the Virginia General Assembly adjourned in March.
Over the past several months, the communities we represent have felt the impact of the national gun violence surge. Some 161 residents in Hampton Roads have been wounded by gunfire so far this year, a 27% increase over the same three-month period in 2021. In Richmond, deaths by gun violence are 20% higher than last year.
The gun violence seen in the communities we call home is part of a larger issue plaguing the state and nation. More than 1,000 Virginians and 30,000 Americans are killed by gun violence in any given year. This disproportionately impacts communities of color: Black Virginians are 8 times more likely to die from gun-related homicide than white Virginians. And this year is already shaping up to be worse.
These statistics are jarring. But these are not just statistics; each number represents a personal tragedy: mothers, fathers, sons and daughters whose lives were cut short due to gun violence. These are the communities where we live, work and send our kids to school. We cannot allow our homes to become places where we fear for our lives.
It’s past time for statewide action. Senate Bill 487 and House Bill 825, which we introduced this year, would be a major step in the right direction. Our bills present a common-sense way to alleviate some of the disasters brought on by gun violence by establishing a Center for Firearm Violence Intervention and Prevention at the Department of Criminal Justice Service (DCJS).
The center will lead a comprehensive approach by empowering communities to address the root causes of gun violence in all its forms. The center will implement evidence-based solutions, establish and disseminate best practices, research demographics and trends, collaborate with and award grants to localities and community organizations addressing their specific local needs, offer training, and more. The data collected and reported by the center will help to inform state and local agencies, higher education and research institutions, hospitals and other medical care facilities, and community-based organizations. The center will also help adopt training standards and effective policies for law-enforcement to prevent gun violence.
The Senate budget invests $27 million into the center to support community-based organizations working to prevent gun violence; a center whose work will have concrete impacts on the lives of Virginians while continuing to research bold, innovative solutions. Now, it’s time to ensure that funding remains in the final passed budget. This center is necessary to slow and hopefully eradicate the epidemic affecting lives across Virginia. Whether it be in the classroom, in a local business or walking down the street, our communities deserve the right to feel safe where they live, work and learn.
These bills come after the U.S. Centers for Disease Control announced in 2021 that it will also fund research regarding gun violence prevention for the first time in more than 20 years. Some of those funds will head to VCU and the Virginia Department of Health.
While SB487 passed the Senate with bipartisan support, HB825 was tabled in favor of HB833, creating a grant program for law enforcement to address “group violence.” Unfortunately, this narrow, top-down approach will not address suicide, domestic violence and other forms of gun violence plaguing our communities. The gun violence prevention center we have proposed will address the epidemic of gun-related suicide, which accounts for an estimated 65% of gun-related deaths in Virginia. These bills are currently in a conference committee to resolve these differences.
No more children, no more Virginians, no one else should have to lose their lives to senseless acts of gun violence. No other family should receive the news that a loved one will not be coming home. It’s time we take these lifesaving, common-sense steps to prevent gun violence in Hampton Roads, in Richmond and all across America.
Virginia Sen. Jennifer McClellan represents the 9th Senate District, comprising the city of Richmond, Henrico County, Hanover County, and Charles City County. Del. Marcia Price represents parts of Newport News and Hampton in the 95th House District.