As Chairman of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors during the Virginia Tech tragedy, I saw firsthand the heartache and grief that dangerous guns in the wrong hands can cause. We buried six young people from Fairfax, including the shooter. The faces of those grieving parents are seared into my memory.
Now it’s Newtown. Twenty innocents and their six teachers. More tears, more burials. But will we heed its meaning and finally break the gun lobby spell that has had us in thrall to a psychosis that has left us numb and paralyzed with each new tragedy? I think so. The gun lobby has intimidated us for far too long.
The NRA and its right-wing allies have created a culture of fear among the political class. If you step out of line on guns, you will find yourself in their crosshairs. And heretofore, the perception has been that there is little upside to speaking out in favor of sensible gun safety. But I’m living proof that, especially in suburban swing districts, voters can and do reward politicians willing to put public safety above lock-step adherence to an extreme NRA agenda.
In 2010, I faced an NRA-backed opponent who opposed closing the gun show loophole and suggested that Virginia Tech students might have stopped the 2007 tragedy had they been “packing heat” themselves. In the shadow of the NRA, which is headquartered in my district, I stuck to my record of supporting background checks for all firearm purchases and banning guns from schools, mental health centers and government offices. Against an onslaught of outside money and an unfavorable national climate for Democrats, I survived. And I survived in part because I wasn’t afraid of the gun lobby.
Reasonable gun safety measures like rigorous background checks to keep dangerous weapons from criminals and the mentally ill, a ban on assault-style weapons designed to kill dozens with ease, and stiff penalties for gun owners who fail to secure their weapons have broad public support, even among gun owners and NRA members. Surely we, as a civilized society, can now move beyond the ridiculous argument that any restriction of any kind is an assault on individual liberty.
We have been lulled into a passivity and fatalism with the logical fallacies and thuggish tactics of the gun lobby at a terrible cost. Each year guns kill 10 times the number of Americans lost on 9/11 and each year we face another massacre — Aurora, Tucson, Virginia Tech and now Newtown. It is time for our outrage to return us to action and reshape our gun culture. It is in our hands.
Rep. Gerry Connolly (D) has represented the 11th District of Virginia since 2009.