RICHMOND, Va. (WWBT) - A virtual roundtable discussion on gun violence prevention was hosted Monday by Virginia’s Attorney General and the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
Attorney General Mark Herring and Lori Haas, the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence Virginia State Director, lead the roughly hour-long conversation with several law enforcement professionals, advocates and family members impacted by gun violence.
“We have a gun violence problem in this country and in this Commonwealth,” Herring said.
The group discussed recently passed gun laws, hate crimes and domestic violence, but all with one thing in common – finding a solution to end gun violence.
“We’re still losing individuals; they’re precious lives each and every day,” said Carol Adam, a domestic violence advocate. “We have to save as many as we can, as soon as we can.”
The panel of eight individuals, including Herring, says gun violence affects everyone in one shape or another.
“Gun violence is not just the mass shootings,” Herring said. “It’s also a child who is shot at a park by a stray bullet, it’s a woman who is killed at the hands of a violent partner, it’s a community who lives in fear they could be shot while going to a grocery store.”
While the General Assembly took action on gun control in the past few years, local law enforcement said there is much more ground to cover. For example, tackling the use of ghost guns - essentially a homemade firearm that does not have a serial number.
According to Richmond Police Major Spencer Cochran, there were two cases in 2020 involving ghost guns.
“One was involved in the shooting of a police officer actually, and one so far this year,” Cochran said. “The issue with law enforcement is there’s no way we can trace those guns back to specific individuals. They’re not really regulated right now.”
“Criminals will look for other sources for crime guns,” Haas added. “This is one of them. We anticipate sales in unfinished receivers and un-serialized firearms to be rising.”
However, these advocates also acknowledge this gun violence issue needs to be addressed early on.
“If you look at the number one reason people join gangs, it’s protection,” said Rev. Dr. Emanuel Harris, President of Baptist Ministers’ Conference of Richmond and Vicinity. “I feel that I have to protect myself, so I’m going to affiliate myself with this gang and now I’m big and bad.”
This discussion comes as the city of Richmond has dealt with an increasing number of shootings in the month of April; police did not mention any gang affiliations in these cases.
From April 4 (Easter) until April 9, there were 12 shootings in that time span which left six people dead.
Meanwhile, Henrico County Commonwealth’s Attorney Shannon Taylor also participated in the discussion.
According to Henrico Police, overall gun-related violence has increased across the county by 14% compared to this time last year.
As of recently, authorities have also dealt with a number of shootings involving juvenile victims and suspects.
“I cannot emphasize enough about how we have got to find the funding for mental health,” Taylor said. “We have got to do something different with the education.”
All panelists agreeing with Taylor to encourage more resources within communities, especially with stark statistics from the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
“Men of color between the ages of 18 and 24 are at very high risk of firearm homicide,” Haas said. “It’s the number one killer in those age groups. So, we need to help.”
Meanwhile, advocates also discussed the surge in the number of domestic violence cases during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’ve got women with no place to go, we can’t remove the offender because where are they going to go,” Taylor said. “We do know from documentation from the hospitals as well… the seriousness of the injuries that these women are now coming to the hospitals with are being more serious.”
“In domestic violence situations firearms are used for intimidation and threat,” Haas added. “Those are big problems in too many homes, too many households and too many circumstances.”
According to Adams, when a firearm is brought into a domestic violence situation an end result of homicide is five more times likely to occur.
“Every month an average of 53 women are shot and killed by an intimate partner, and nearly one million women alive have reported being shot or being shot at by their partner,” Adams said. “Four-and-a-half million women have reported being threatened with a gun by an intimate partner.”
Meanwhile, families impacted by gun violence also spoke about ways to curb the issue.
Andy Parker, the father of journalist Alison Parker who was shot and killed on live television in 2015, spoke on the matter.
He said finding a solution and making an effect to discuss the uncomfortable topic is important.
“We have to make sure that people don’t get numb to this issue,” Parker said. “I think that it’s probably very easy to do because it’s happening with such frequency that I do think people are starting to become numb to it.”
Gloria Pan, the Vice President of gun safety group Moms Rising, also addressed the impacts of gun violence and hate crimes.
According to Pan, in Virginia the Asian community is one of the fastest-growing communities with 7% of the state’s population; the vast majority located in Northern Virginia.
“Our community is frankly bewildered, and we are scared,” Pan said.
Pan said not only does this group have to worry about violence against them from outside the community, but now violence within the community.
“The pandemic has brought record gun sales and unfortunately there was a splurge in gun purchases from the Asian-American community,” she added. “Many of us are new Americans; we are here building how to be American and we don’t understand the dangers of actually bringing a gun into our homes and how that actually creates the chance we will be harmed.”
For more on Herring’s “No Hate VA” initiative, click here.
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