Gabby Giffords, Mark Kelly, and Local Leaders Announce New Bipartisan “Virginia Coalition for Common Sense” to Urge Virginia’s Elected Officials to Act to Reduce Gun Violence

March 29, 2016 – Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords and Captain Mark Kelly, the Co-Founders of Americans for Responsible Solutions, joined with Virginia leaders today at the State Capitol to announce a new coalition, the “Virginia Coalition for Common Sense.” The coalition’s members – which include gun owners, former law enforcement officials, veterans, faith leaders, domestic violence prevention advocates, former elected officials, prosecutors and business leaders  – will urge their elected officials to advance policies that help keep guns out of the wrong hands and prevent gun tragedies while protecting the rights of law-abiding Americans to own firearms.

The coalition’s leaders will fight for commonsense solutions that will help keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people, like:

  1. Closing the loopholes in Virginia law that let felons, domestic abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill buy guns in Virginia without a criminal background check
  2. Strengthening the existing gun background checks system by ensuring Virginia’s leaders make critical investments in the reporting of records to the system, since our background check system is only as good as the data and records it contains.
  3. Ensuring lawmakers and stakeholders have the resources and training they need to help prevent gun violence and strengthen existing laws to keep guns out of dangerous hands.

Members of the Virginia Coalition for Common Sense include:

Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, Co-Founder, Americans for Responsible Solutions

Captain Mark Kelly, Co-Founder, Americans for Responsible Solutions

Ward Armstrong, Former Minority Leader, Virginia House of Delegates

James Ardent Barnett Jr., Retired Rear Admiral, United States Navy

John Bell, Retired Deputy Chief, Virginia Beach Police Department

Gary Creditor, Former Rabbi, Temple Beth-El

Mike Doucette, Commonwealth’s Attorney, Lynchburg

Cathy Easter, Executive Director, Safe Harbor

Conaway Haskins, Former State Director, U.S. Senator Jim Webb

Tim Heaphy, Former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia

Gail Kulisch, Retired Captain, United States Coast Guard

Frank LaPorta, Retired Captain, Virginia Beach Police Department

Kimberly Lettner, Former Chief, Virginia Capitol Police

Tyrone Nelson, Pastor, Sixth Mount Zion Baptist Church

Marj Signer, Former Co-President, Virginia National Organization for Women

Charles Swadley, Retired Senior Pastor, Lakeside United Methodist Church

Carlos Del Toro, CEO, SBG Technology Solutions and Retired Commander, United States Navy

Katherine Waddell, Former Delegate, Virginia House of Delegates

“Stopping gun violence takes courage – the courage to do what’s right, and the courage of new ideas. I’ve seen great courage when my life was on the line,” said Congresswoman Giffords in a speech at this morning’s announcement. “Now is the time to come together – to be responsible! Democrats, Republicans – everyone.”

“Gabby and I are honored to join with so many leaders from across Virginia to fight for some commonsense change and safer communities,” said Captain Kelly, a Navy combat veteran and former NASA astronaut. “We have a gun violence problem in our nation that makes us stand out in the worst of ways. We have to do better. We can – and we must. We’ve all seen the bumper sticker: ‘Guns don’t kill people. People kill people.’ It’s true. And that’s exactly why our leaders need to do more to keep guns out of the hands of dangerous people and protecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners like Gabby and me. It’s the responsible thing to do.”

“Throughout my career as a federal prosecutor here in Virginia, I had a front row seat to the sad reality of gun violence in the Commonwealth.  I understand how dangerous people exploit the gaps in our laws to get their hands on guns. It makes no sense that current law allows felons, domestic and child abusers, and the dangerously mentally ill the option of buying a gun without a background check,” said Tim Heaphy, former U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Virginia. “The status quo is dangerous, and unacceptable. It’s time for our elected leaders in Virginia to do more to keep guns out of the wrong hands and give law enforcement and prosecutors the tools they need to reduce gun crime.  Common sense restrictions on access to firearms will make Virginia’s families safer.”

“As a former law enforcement officer in Virginia, I know all too well what guns can do when they fall into the wrong hands. I’ve seen the aftermath of gun tragedies, and it is not something you forget,” said John Bell, retired Deputy Chief, Virginia Beach Police Department. “So I’m honored to join this fight with Congresswoman Giffords, Captain Kelly and so many of my fellow Virginians because I know we can do better. I know we can do more to address guns getting into the hands of felons. I also know that we can do more to close the loopholes that allow guns in the hands of domestic abusers as well as those suffering the debilitating effects of mental illness,” said John Bell, retired Deputy Chief, Virginia Beach Police Department. All of these cases only serve to put our families and communities at greater risk of gun violence. I know we don’t have to choose between making our communities safer places to live and protecting the rights of responsible, law-abiding people.”

“As a proud veteran of our armed forces, I served to uphold our Constitution and the right of law-abiding Americans to own guns. I also know that along with the right of gun ownership comes some serious responsibilities. So now, as a Virginia business leader, I want to know our leaders are taking responsible steps to keep guns out of the wrong hands while protecting the rights of law-abiding Virginians and making our families and workplaces safer,” said Carlos Del Toro, CEO, SBG Technology Solutions and retired Commander, United States Navy. “I’m honored to join Gabby, Mark, and my fellow Virginians today for the launch of this new and badly-needed effort to build safer communities.”

“Guns and domestic violence are a deadly, tragic mix. We have seen time and time again how guns are used to intimidate, threaten, injure and end the lives of victims of domestic violence – and how abusers exploit the gaps in our laws to get their hands on guns. That’s one reason why more than half of all domestic violence-related deaths in Virginia involve a firearm. Our leaders must do more to make our communities safer and protect women and men and their families,” said Cathy Easter, Executive Director, Safe Harbor.

“Like so many Americans, I have been shocked by the gun violence that plagues our communities – and my views about what our leaders must do to address this gun violence have changed. In my experience as a Virginia legislator, too often the debate became a false choice pitting the rights of gun owners against the need for safer communities. We can have both,” said Ward Armstrong, the former Minority Leader of the Virginia House of Delegates. “Our leaders can and must close the loopholes that let felons and domestic abusers in Virginia buy guns without a criminal background check. Responsible changes to our laws won’t prevent every tragedy in Virginia, but they will prevent some, and that is worth it. To let those loopholes continue to exist is simply irresponsible.”

“I served Virginia as a Republican and an Independent Member of the General Assembly, and believe in the right to bear arms but I also believe in common sense legislation like background checks for gun purchases. Keeping guns out of the hands of criminals is not – and must not – be a partisan idea. Today is yet another sign that Republicans, Independents, and Democrats can come together in support of responsible solutions that help keep guns out of the wrong hands and save lives. It’s up to our leaders in Richmond to follow suit, do the right  thing and help build a safer Virginia,” said Katherine Waddell, Republican and Former Delegate, Virginia House of Delegates.

ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE IN THE UNITED STATES

Each Year, 32,000 Americans Die from Gun Violence. Every day, 88 Americans are killed with guns, and nearly 12,000 Americans are murdered with a gun each year. [WISQARS Injury Mortality Reports, 1999-2010]

Americans Are 20 Times More Likely To Be Murdered with a Gun Than People in Other Peer Countries. [Journal of Trauma, Injury, Infection, and Critical Care, 2011]

The Number of Shootings Is on the Rise. While the number of gun murders in the U.S. has remained constant, the number of shootings has been increasing. The number of non-fatal gunshot wounds rose more than 50 percent between 2001 and 2013. [Everytown for Gun Safety, 2014]

ABOUT GUN VIOLENCE IN VIRGINIA

Somebody Is Killed with a Gun in Virginia Every 10 Hours. In 2010 alone, there were 875 deaths from gun violence in the state. [Center for American Progress & Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence]

From 2001 to 2010, 8,262 People Were Killed with Guns in Virginia. That is more than one and a half times more than all U.S. combat deaths in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars combined. [Center for American Progress & Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence]

Over Half of All Domestic Violence-Related Deaths in Virginia Involve a Gun. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, over half of all domestic violence homicide victims in 2011 were killed with guns. Firearms accounted for the murders of 549 women in Virginia from 2001 to 2010. [Center for American Progress & Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence]

ABOUT GUN LAWS IN THE UNITED STATES AND IN VIRGINIA

In Virginia, Criminal Background Checks Are Only Required at Licensed Firearms Dealers – Not Online and at Gun Shows. Today, under federal law, certain categories of dangerous individuals, known as prohibited purchasers, such as convicted felons, domestic abusers and some dangerously mentally ill people, are prohibited from purchasing or possessing firearms. Under the Brady Act, when a person attempts to purchase a gun from a licensed dealer, the dealer runs a check through the National Instant Criminal Background Check (NICS) system to determine whether a potential buyer is prohibited from purchasing firearms. If information in NICS indicates that a person is prohibited from legally purchasing a firearm, the dealer must deny the sale. But these federal NICS background checks are not required for private sales – which include sales conducted at gun shows and online. Because Virginia law follows federal law, criminal background checks are required only at federally licensed firearms dealers, but not for private sales, including online and at gun shows. [Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, 2015]

Where They Are Required, Federal Background Checks Are Quick and Effective. Ninety-one percent of background checks are completed instantaneously, and since the NICS system has been in place, over 196 million background checks have been conducted, and over two million firearms sales to prohibited purchasers have been denied. [Federal Bureau of Investigation, 2014][Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2010]

States That Require Criminal Background Checks for All Handgun Sales Have Seen Drops in Their Gun Violence Rates. In the seventeen states and the District of Columbia that already require background checks for all handgun sales, 46 percent fewer women are shot to death by their intimate partners, there are 48 percent fewer firearms suicides and 48 percent fewer law enforcement officers are shot to death by handguns. Conversely, after Missouri repealed its law in 2007 that required background checks on all handgun sales, gun homicides increased by 25 percent in the state. [Everytown for Gun Safety, 2015][Everytown for Gun Safety, 2015][Everytown for Gun Safety, 2015][Webster, Crifasi, Vernick, 2014]

88% of Virginians Support Criminal Background Checks for All Gun Sales. According to research conducted in February 2016, 88 percent of Virginia voters support requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales. [Christopher Newport University, 2016]

85% of Americans Support Criminal Background Checks for All Gun Sales. According to research conducted in August 2015, 85% of Americans – including 79% of Republicans – support requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales. In research conducted in 2014, 92 percent of gun owners said they supported requiring background checks for all gun sales. [Pew Research Center, 2015] [Quinnipiac, 2014]