Virginia Nice Time Streak Ends As 'Moderate' Dems Help Kill Assault Weapon Ban
Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam's push to make the state just a tad less lethal failed Monday when members of his own party shivved his proposal to ban the sale of assault weapons. Gun rights advocates cheered with profane glee when state senators voted to bury Northam's bill for a year. The state crime commission will presumably use that time to "study the issue." It's unclear how many more dead people and ruined lives you need to confirm that assault weapons are bad news.
Last May, 12 people were killed in a shooting massacre at a municipal building in Virginia Beach, Virginia. The same year, New Zealand banned military-style semiautomatic rifles and high capacity magazines less than a week after a horrific mass shooting in Christchurch left 50 people dead. This is not a compelling example of American exceptionalism. This nation is unable to seriously address gun violence, and it's probably because we take seriously people who parade around in public outfitted for war. This is somehow an exercise of their constitutional right to terrify and intimidate their fellow Americans. They consider any form of gun control morally comparable to Jim Crow laws (no, seriously, someone put that on a sign). They lack both an awareness of history and basic humanity.
Northam attempted to respond to the Virginia Beach shooting with sensible gun safety laws, and what happened was the same old story we've seen after Newtown, Parkland, and El Paso. Thoughts and prayers were followed by shameless lies and demagoguery from people who won't let go of their high-caliber blankies. That malignant growth we call a president, Donald Trump, demonstrated everything wrong with how we address gun violence. This is what he tweeted after the Virginia Beach shooting:
Spoke to Virginia Governor @RalphNortham last night, and the Mayor and Vice Mayor of Virginia Beach this morning, t… https://t.co/xoxPXcGBTc— Donald J. Trump (@Donald J. Trump)1559400186.0
Here's the lit match Trump tossed on gasoline-soaked rags not even a year later.
Gun rights advocates claimed (wrongly) that Northam wanted to confiscate all guns. Northam argued (correctly) that he wasn't going to confiscate all guns. He just wanted to prevent new sales of assault weapons and high-capacity magazines. Those aren't "all guns," but they are often used in mass murders. Northam believed a "watered-down" assault weapon ban would gain the support of enough "moderate Democrats" to pass, which is the basic plot of all failed or just-plain disappointing Democratic legislation for the past 30 years.
Northam has succeeded in passing some decent gun safety laws, including one that established background checks for any transfer of firearms. That's great, but unfortunately the bill exempts immediate family members, who are rarely the best judges of their loved ones' mental states. Some other bills likely to pass would restrict handgun purchases to once a month because, really, a dozen handguns in a single year is probably more than enough. Public buildings and parks should soon be able to tell people to leave their dozen handguns at home. There's also a red flag law that would let judges temporarily take firearms away from people who are a danger to themselves and others.
So, it's not a total downer, but damn, there were 417 mass shootings in the US last year. They literally exceeded the number of days. We're trapped in a burning building and the best we can do is pass a few laws governing how quickly the flames consume us.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."