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Insights from Virginia Moms for Change Q+A Series

Throughout April, Virginia Moms for Change (VMFC) hosted a series of Instagram Q+A sessions, featuring a diverse lineup of experts and advocates in gun violence prevention (GVP). From seasoned activists to legal analysts, each participant brought unique perspectives to the forefront, shedding light on crucial issues and fostering dialogue.

Andy Goddard, Legislative Director of the Virginia Center for Public Safety, emphasized the parallels between gun control advocacy and historical battles against tobacco. He stated, "I wish people realized that we are in a situation today with guns that is equivalent to the situation 30-40 years ago with cigarettes." Highlighting the importance of public awareness, he urged against hopelessness in the fight for change.

Question: What do you say to people who feel like this is a hopeless fight?

Andy: "It is only hopeless if good people give up hope! The gun industry has spent a huge amount of effort and money trying to convince the public that nothing can be done to prevent gun violence, but that is not true. Public support for GVP measures has

probably never been higher, but that support is not reflected equally between the 2 major political parties. We need to get partisanship out of the equation and have legislators voting on the merits of a policy rather than party orthodoxy."

Mark Joseph Stern, a legal analyst for Slate Magazine, addressed misconceptions surrounding Second Amendment rights. He clarified, "No. The notion of some unlimited constitutional right to buy and use firearms is a fantasy peddled by far-right extremists." Stern discussed the complexities of legal precedent, including the Bruen decision, which navigates the balance between individual rights and public safety.

Question: Does the 2nd amendment allow for people to do whatever they want with any firearm?

Mark: "No. The notion of some unlimited constitutional right to buy and use firearms is a fantasy peddled by far-right extremists. Every state has laws that limit an individual’s ability to buy and carry guns and other dangerous weapons. Even states with alarmingly lax gun safety regimes still restrict access and use of firearms. There is no constitutional freedom to amass a limitless number of guns and use them however you wish."

Lori Haas, Advocacy Manager for Johns Hopkins Center for Gun Violence Solutions, provided a message of resilience. She affirmed, "This will not change overnight." Haas encouraged continued efforts, underscoring the importance of sustained commitment in the face of challenges.

Question: What do you want VMFC members to know and hold onto?

Lori: "This will not change overnight. It has taken decades for us to get where we are and we have to put in the work. Despite the difficulties we see over time, there's hope, there's always hope."

Shannon Taylor, Henrico Commonwealth Attorney, emphasized the role of law enforcement in combatting gun violence. She stated, "I take very seriously my responsibility to do everything I can to keep my community safe." Taylor advocated for proactive measures to address gun proliferation and enhance accountability.

Question: What laws have you seen make a difference and what laws do you wish were on the books?

Shannon: "We have red flag laws here in Virginia and while I wish they were utilized more, they do help. What could we use more of? I think stronger safe storage laws. We had a tragedy in my county where a young adolescent got ahold of an unsecured firearm and killed a young teenager who he didn’t know. Thankfully, this year, in response to that horrific tragedy, we have our first safe storage law, but we need those laws to be stronger to cover more scenarios. I certainly believe universal background checks could help prevent some dangerous people from obtaining a gun. And this is a concept with overwhelming support of all voters."

Andi, a former Republican with a personal connection to gun violence, shared her journey of political evolution. Reflecting on pivotal moments, she questioned the stance of responsible Republican gun owners on safety measures. She urged patience and factual discourse in engaging with GOP family members on GVP issues.

Question: What was your “click” I am not a Republican anymore moment?

Andi: "Sandy Hook was the moment I became disillusioned with the Republican party, but their stance on GVP ever since has continued to confound. What I still don’t truly understand is why responsible Republican gun owners don’t also want to make gun ownership safer? Take safe storage - that should be such low-hanging fruit. This is an easy way to keep guns away from children or those who wish to harm themselves (or others). That’s what responsible gun owners do - keep a lethal weapon out of reach. But even Rob Wittman, my Republican congressman, has said he stores his guns safely, but doesn’t want it to be mandated for anyone. But why?? We mandate insurance for our cars which can be lethal weapons when not handled properly, why not a mandate for safe gun storage? This is a uniquely Republican perspective and I do not agree with it in any way."

These Q+A sessions served as platforms for meaningful dialogue, igniting a sense of purpose within the VMFC community. As advocates continue their journey, these insights serve as guiding principles in the pursuit of a safer future for all.

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