Uvalde shooting prompts calls in Northern Virginia for stronger gun laws

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Fairfax County on Tuesday Virginia urged state lawmakers and Congress to do more to prevent gun violence following the mass shootings in Uvalde, Tex., Buffalo and elsewhere in recent weeks.

After honoring the memories of the 19 students and two teachers who were killed in the shooting at Robb Elementary in Uvalde, the Northern Virginia county — home to the National Rifle Association’s headquarters — pushed for the General Assembly to pass a host of what a resolution calls “Common sense gun safety” measures as quickly as possible.

Among them: a ban on assault weapons, raising the state’s legal age to purchase certain types of firearms from 18 to 21, and giving local jurisdictions more authority to enact their own gun violence prevention measures.

“People have had it,” said Jeffrey C. McKay (D-At Large), the board of supervisors chairman. He introduced the resolution, which was approved on a 9-to-1 vote. He said that as the father of two children who attend county public schools, the shooting in Uvalde was particularly unsettling.

“No other country has to deal with the challenges that we’re dealing with,” McKay said. “No other parents have to fear, when they put their kids on a school bus every morning: Are they going to come back alive?”

Virginia passed a host of gun violence prevention laws in 2020, fueled in part by a mass shooting in Virginia Beach the year before that killed 12 people.

But, amid protests in Richmond by gun rights activists who arrived from around the country, the then-Democratically controlled state legislature stopped short on an assault weapons ban, partly because it proved difficult to define the weapons and agree on how to enforce a ban.

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With Republicans now controlling the governor’s mansion and the House of Delegates, the state has mainly sought to stem fatal shootings through violence prevention programs and calls to beef up security inside local schools — with a few failed attempts by GOP lawmakers to overturn some of the 2020 laws.

Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) repeated the calls for improved safety after the Uvalde shooting, noting that the state budget included funding for more school resource officers and that Virginia now requires safety audits to be conducted at schools in cooperation with local law enforcement agencies.

His administration is working to make sure that “local school boards and local law enforcement are collaborating and communicating immediately, so that if some, God forbid, copycat criminal decided to try to replicate this, we would be prepared,” Youngkin said during a news conference last week.

On Tuesday, Del. Don L. Scott Jr. (D-Portsmouth) — the House’s newly elected minority leader — argued that Youngkin should convene another General Assembly special session so the state can do more about gun violence.

“We can ban AR-15s if we wanted to,” said Scott, speaking a few hours after another shooting killed three adults and critically injured another adult in Portsmouth. “We can ban high-capacity magazines if we want to. They are weapons of war. They should not be in our communities.”

Other officials in Northern Virginia have been working to increase the pressure on Youngkin and other Republican leaders.

Two days after the Uvalde shooting, Arlington County’s board called for local licensing and registration requirements for buying and selling guns and for anyone in the state openly carrying a firearm to be required to get a state permit and license.

“The fact that this keeps on happening is gutting and infuriating,” said Katie Cristol (D), the Arlington board chair.

The Alexandria City Council is considering a resolution promoting the state’s red-flag law and some of the other measures passed in 2020.

In Fairfax, several supervisors pointed out that gun violence has become the leading cause of death among children and adolescents in the nation, surpassing automobile accidents in 2020, according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data.

While violent crime is relatively low in Fairfax — with 21 homicides and 8,020 assaults in the county of 1.1 million residents last year — the pervasiveness of guns in the country puts every community in jeopardy, McKay said.

Pat Herrity (Springfield), the sole dissenting vote on the measure and the Fairfax board’s only Republican, argued against the idea of ​​the state granting localities more authority to enact their own gun laws.

“It has the potential to create a web of confusion for law-abiding gun owners,” Herrity said.

Fellow board member Rodney L. Lusk (D-Lee) said any effort to prevent the loss of someone’s life by gun violence is worth it.

Lusk sponsored a separate motion that the board also approved, directing the county staff to study how to take more firearms out of circulation through a county gun-buyback program.

The The Fairfax Police Department accepts unwanted guns, but the county doesn’t offer any financial incentives for people to surrender their weapons. Under state law, those firearms can be sold in a public auction if the person relinquishing them requests it.

The board directed the county to explore how a gun-buyback program would work under state law.

“If we can get even one gun off the street that would prevent one death, we’ve done something important,” Lusk said.

Teo Armus contributed to this report.

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