Delegate Delores McQuinn, who represents the 70th District, is one of several elected officials to address a crowd at the 31st Street Baptist Church on Sunday, July 7. It’s two days before she and her colleagues in the General Assembly will convene for a special session on gun reform, and the sanctuary pews are lined with more than 100 people who want stricter gun laws in Virginia.During an impassioned speech, McQuinn recalls times the state government has implemented new policies in the name of public safety, like wearing seat belts and driving under the influence. She says protecting citizens from gun violence should be no different.
“I’m calling on my colleagues to take simple measures for common sense efforts to address this particular issue,” she says, adding that reality of gun violence is not fake news. “It is real, in real time, with real people being affected. And how much more should we tolerate? It is inconceivable to think that we potentially live in a society and do absolutely nothing about something we have the power to do. All it takes is courage to get it done.”
When McQuinn asks who in the audience has lost a family member to gun violence, more than 40 people silently raise their hands. The recent mass shooting at a municipal building in Virginia Beach and the death of 9-year-old Markiya Dickson, who was shot in a city park, has inspired a string of vigils, rallies and events to honor victims and advocate for what activists call common-sense gun laws. During the special session on Tuesday, Governor Ralph Northam wants legislators to consider policies such as a ban on assault weapons, bump stocks, high-capacity magazines and silencers; universal background checks; and limiting an individual’s handgun purchases to one per month.
Other speakers at the Sunday evening rally include Richmond City Councilwoman Cynthia Newbile, newly appointed Police Chief William Smith, Mayor Levar Stoney, Lieutenant Governor Justin Fairfax and Northam, the keynote. Between remarks, members of the New Life Deliverance Tabernacle choir perform passionate, soulful hymns, bringing the audience to its feet every time as Northam and other elected officials sway and clap along behind the pulpit.
“Enough is enough,” Northam says to the crowd. “And so that’s why I have asked the General Assembly to come back on Tuesday. They can bring their thoughts and prayers, that’s fine. But they were elected by people like you to vote and to make laws. So we need to hold them to that. This is common sense. These are common sense pieces of legislation.”
Last week, City Council passed the mayor’s ordinance to ban guns in city buildings and parks, pending the General Assembly’s approval during the special session. Councilwomen Ellen Robertson and Reva Trammell both abstained.
“I’ve done my part by proposing the legislation,” Stoney tells Style after the rally on Sunday. “Most of City Council, seven members, did their part by approving it. I wish it was nine, but it was only seven.”
Stoney goes on to say he’s optimistic about the special session and there’s a “sense of urgency” around the issue.
“I do believe that members of the General Assembly, particularly those who are in the majority, will see the light,” he says. “And they’ll understand what localities like ours, here in the city of RVA, face day in and day out. Also, they live in localities that also deserve the ability, I think, to choose whether or not firearms are allowed in their public spaces like municipal buildings and city parks.”
Northam echoes that sentiment.
“I have asked the leadership to let all of the legislators vote on these on the floor. You have 40 senators and 100 delegates,” the governor tells Style as the crowd disperses. He notes that other policies that died in committee, like ending the suspension of driver’s licenses for people who fail to pay court fines, passed once they made it onto the floor for a vote.
“I think most Virginians realize that this is the right thing to do.”
On the morning of Tuesday, July 9, advocates for gun reform will gather at the bell tower for a vigil at 9 a.m. and a rally at 10 a.m.