Background checks on all gun sales. An extreme risk law which would let family members work with police officers to petition for an order temporarily removing guns from someone in crisis. Boosting funding for cities and community organizations fighting gun violence.
These are the types of measures the Virginia legislature is poised to enact this year.
As opponents of this life-saving legislation made clear on Martin Luther King Day, the hard-line extremists at the far fringe of our political debate are watching closely. Fortunately, so are the rest of us. The legislature is poised to act because in November, hundreds of thousands of Virginians — Democrats and Republicans, many of them gun owners — elected a gun sense majority that placed taking action on gun safety at the top of its legislative agenda.
For too many of us, this issue is personal.
In 2018, my life changed forever because of a gun in the hands of someone who should have never had one. He was my brother, and my best friend, Casey. Casey had struggled for years with mental health issues. We were worried about him, but we stayed hopeful, knowing that with the help he needed, Casey would be able to not only survive, but also continue to bring joy into the lives of so many of us.
On April 8, 2018 at 3 a.m., a message from Casey made it clear something was horribly wrong. I drove hours to the home of our mom. She loved music and laughter, and she loved each of us. We were her world.
When I arrived at her home in East Ridge, Tennessee, my mother was dead. Casey had fatally shot her and a close friend, Avery. Hours later, he took his own life — also with a gun.
I can’t go back in time to save these lives, but no family should go through what we have gone through. And I know that sensible, strong gun laws — measures like the ones Virginia lawmakers are poised to enact this year — will save future lives.
As highly charged as political debates about guns can be, there is so much that almost all of us agree on: the proposals the legislature has prioritized fall squarely within that widespread consensus.
For so many of us, the truth is that it’s already too late. Since the deaths of my mother and my brother, I’ve talked to so many other people whose lives have also been upended with guns. In Virginia alone, more than 950 people are killed each year with guns — more than 600 of them in suicides. And sadly, this public health crisis spans from coast to coast.
Every single day in this country, 100 Americans are shot and killed, and twice as many have gone on to survive their wounds. By the first week of February, more Americans have been killed by guns than the number of gun deaths experienced by our peer countries in an entire calendar year. But I know I join many survivors when I say that our stories — our loved ones — are more than just statistics. That’s why I’m sharing my experience during National Gun Violence Survivors Week and honoring my mother and brother’s lives with action. And in Virginia, our legislature is closer than ever to passing legislation that can save lives.
No one law can end all gun violence, but that is no excuse for not taking the reasonable steps we know will save lives. Steps like requiring background checks on all gun sales, enacting an extreme risk law and boosting funding for city gun violence prevention.
I stand firmly united with Virginians in our resolve to save lives and carry our momentum forward in making progress. For my family and for others, we simply can’t afford to wait.
Chad Lawhorn is a volunteer with the Virginia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America. He lives in Alexandria, Virginia.