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Reducing gun violence

The Virginia Crime Commission meets for two days this week to discuss the numerous bills presented during the July Special Session. Day One of the Commission’s meeting will consist primarily of presentations by subject matter experts.

The commission will hear presentations from the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, the Virginia State Police, the Virginia Department of Health, the U.S. Secret Service, the National Center for Health Research, as well as experts from Boston University and John Jay College of Criminal Justice.

The goal of day one is twofold: identify the problem in Virginia and begin the process of evaluating solutions to the problem. Members will be briefed on everything from homicide rates related to guns to the impact of media coverage on mass shootings.

Among the presentations to be heard Monday include the founder of Operation Ceasefire, David Kennedy. Kennedy’s “Group Violence Intervention” project was the seed from which Boston’s successful program grew.

Public comment will be allowed Tuesday from 1:30-4:30 p.m., with bill presentations from patrons starting immediately thereafter.

Republicans are committed to reducing gun violence in Virginia, but our response must be thoughtful and evidence-based. Rushing to “do something” just to do something is a poor use of the General Assembly’s power and could be counterproductive.

As with Virginia Tech and Parkland, our approach continues to be to gather the facts, identify the failures or weaknesses in our system, and find ways to strengthen or repair them.

Democrats, on the other hand, have made it clear they have one objective: pass gun control laws, regardless of whether or not they would work to reduce violence.

At the Special Session in July, Democrats attempted to block consideration of any legislation that wasn’t gun control— including consideration of mental health bills and aid to the City of Virginia Beach.

Democrats began attacking the Crime Commission and the Chairman Sen. Mark Obenshain this week, calling him a “hatchet man” for the National Rifle Association and the entire Crime Commission effort an attempt to shut down gun control legislation.

With the dual tragedies of Dayton and El Paso, gun control is back in the headlines. There’s been a great deal of talk in Washington recently about “Red Flag” laws — laws that would allow a court to remove firearms from the home of someone who was found to be an extreme risk.

Virginia already has something stronger than “Red Flag” laws on the books — Emergency Custody Orders and Temporary Detention orders.

Said simply, if a person is a threat to themselves or others, a magistrate can issue an order that does more than just take the guns away from the person — they take the person away from the guns and get them mental help.

Once evaluated, if the person is found to be a danger to themselves or others, they are prohibited from possessing or purchasing firearms. If they’re found not to be a danger, they’re released to return home.

The more we learn about the horrible atrocities committed in Dayton and El Paso, the more it’s clear that these shooters gave some warnings that were not heeded before their rampages.

The El Paso shooter’s mother called the police when he bought his weapon, but she didn’t identify herself or her son. The Dayton shooter’s friends and family had seen years of questionable behavior.

The Secret Service said it clearly in their most recent report on mass attacks — if you see something, say something. And if you’re a first responder or in a position of authority, follow up.

Mass shootings are tragic and terrible, but they account for only a small fraction of the lives taken with firearms each year.

In 2016, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 39,000 people died of gun related injuries. Of those, 451 were killed in mass shootings.

The majority — roughly 23,000 — were suicides. The remaining 14,000 were homicides. No serious discussion of firearm deaths can exclude urban violence and suicide. House Republicans are committed to dealing with both.

In recent years we have strengthened our social safety nets to include key safeguards for those who may harm themselves or others. Legislation tackling proven solutions to urban violence have been sent to the Crime Commission for study.

Del. C. Matthew Fariss represents Buckingham in the Virginia House of Delegates. His email address is DelMFariss@house.virginia.gov.