NASWVA Response to Premature Adjournment of Special Session on Gun Violence Legislation - July 12, 2019
The National Association of Social Workers, Virginia Chapter (NASWVA) is profoundly disappointed that the 2019 Special Session of the General Assembly – called expressly for the purpose of considering measures which might reduce gun-related injuries and deaths – adjourned without any debate of the many serious issues at stake.
Social workers are on the forefront of providing trauma-informed services and are intimately involved with firearm-related tragedies and their aftermath. In 2017 alone, 1,041 Virginians died from gun violence, 65% of whom died by suicide. From a public health and psychosocial standpoint, these statistics cannot be ignored.
NASWVA urges all Virginia social workers to advocate in the months ahead for sensible laws to reduce the incidence of firearm injury and death. In preparation for the Special Session, NASWVA’s Legislative Committee worked hard to identify policy priorities that could have a substantial impact. Although the General Assembly adjourned without considering them, as gun-related violence continues, the need for such legislation will remain.
Child Access Prevention. Firearms are the second leading cause of death for children in the US,[i] and in 2017, Virginia faced its largest number of child firearm deaths since 1982.[ii] Each year, thousands of young people are injured, killed or die by suicide as a result of unsecured firearms. Strengthening Virginia’s Child Access Prevention statute will help prevent child firearm deaths. Measures such as Senate Bill 4017/House Bill 4006, which was proposed in advance of the Special Session, would make it easier for prosecutors to hold responsible gun owners who do not secure their firearms, and increase penalties.
Extreme Risk Protection Orders. Extreme Risk Protection Orders (ERPOs), also known as “red flag” or “risk warrant” laws, allow family members, law enforcement, and others to seek court permission to temporarily remove guns from a person in crisis and at risk of harming oneself and others, and prohibit the purchase of additional guns during that period. Having an ERPO in place reduces the likelihood that people in crisis will harm themselves or others with a gun while their behavior can be evaluated.[iii] Virginia ERPO bills Senate Bill 4012/House Bill 4003 were proposed in advance of the Special Session and have the potential to save lives in our state: Research of similar laws in Indiana and Connecticut suggests that one life is saved for every 10 cases where firearms are temporarily removed.
Universal Background Checks. Virginia does not require that every individual seeking to purchase a firearm undergo a background check. Private sellers, such as those who sell at gun shows or online, are not required to conduct background checks. This creates a loophole for prohibited persons—including those with felony histories, fugitives, and perpetrators of domestic violence— to easily access firearms. A universal background check law closes these dangerous loopholes and creates accountability among private gun sellers. Universal background checks are widely supported in Virginia - a 2017 Quinnipiac University poll found 94% of Virginia voters support requiring background checks for all gun buyers. This includes 99% of Democrats, 90% of Republicans, and 94% of Independent voters.[iv]
It is important that social workers tell their lawmakers about the suffering caused by gun related violence for the individuals and communities they serve. For more information and tips on legislative advocacy, click here and watch for upcoming bulletins.
[i] Cunningham, R. M., Walton, M. A., & Carter, P. M. (2018). The Major Causes of Death in Children and Adolescents in the United States. New England Journal of Medicine, 379(25), 2468– 2475. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMsr1804754
[ii] National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, CDC. Fatal Injury Reports 1981-1998, National, Regional, and States (ICD-9) http://www.cdc.gov/injury/wisqars/fatal_injury_reports.html.
[iii] Swanson, J. W., Easter, M. M., Alanis-Hirsch, K., Belden, C. M., Norko, M. A., Robertson, A. G., ... & Parker, G. F. (2019). Criminal Justice and Suicide Outcomes with Indiana's Risk-Based Gun Seizure Law. The journal of the American Academy of Psychiatry and the Law.
[iv] Quinnipiac University. (2017). “Do you support or oppose requiring background checks for all gun buyers?” Question 31, April 6-10, 2017. Retrieved from https://poll.qu.edu/virginia/releasedetail?ReleaseID=2451
NASWVA Statement on Mass Shooting in Virginia Beach - June 5, 2019
On May 31, 2019, twelve people were shot and killed and six more were injured by a coworker at a municipal government building in Virginia Beach. The shooter was armed with a .45 caliber handgun with a sound suppressor and a high capacity extension, both of which contributed to the number of casualties. The National Association of Social Workers Virginia Chapter (NASWVA) expresses our deepest sympathies to the families of the victims and our unyielding support for the leaders and citizens of Virginia Beach. We also share outrage that these senseless tragedies continue to occur.
Since January 1, 2019, there have been 148 mass shootings and almost as many fatalities in our nation, with Virginia Beach having the highest number of fatalities year-to-date in a single shooting. Astoundingly, in the month of May alone, there were 198 people nationally wounded in mass shootings, for a total of 585 since the first of the year.
We may never know what motivated the Virginia Beach shooter to take the lives of his coworkers. But we do know that this unceasing national crisis calls for a comprehensive response that addresses the systemic causes of gun violence, including mental health, public health, criminal justice, and other dimensions.
Our hearts go out to all families in Virginia who have been victimized or touched by gun violence and other hatred and violence such as that we saw in Charlottesville. NASWVA stands up unequivocally against all violence, including gun violence. As social workers, we work to help communities be safe by working with other organizations and advocacy groups to promote peace and justice for all. As we grieve for the lives lost, we thank those social workers whose work supports victims, families, and communities each day.
NASW is heartened that the 2019 federal budget includes critically needed funding for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute of Health to conduct research on the causes and prevention of gun violence. We urge Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring the Bipartisan Background Checks Act to the floor for a vote so all Senators can go on the record and show whether they are willing to take commonsense action now against gun violence.
In addition, NASWVA supports Governor Ralph Northam in his efforts on this issue, as he called yesterday for a special session of the General Assembly to convene later this month to consider gun control legislation. He has detailed a number of measures he plans to work with individual lawmakers to introduce or reintroduce at the session, including universal background checks; requirements around reporting lost or stolen firearms; reinstatement of a law (repealed in 2012) limiting purchasers to one handgun a month; a ban on military-style weapons, sound suppressors, and high-capacity ammunition magazines; and a “red flag” law which would allow authorities to seize weapons when a court rules the owner is a threat to themselves or others. According to the governor, in 2017, over 1,000 Virginians were killed by guns.
The time for meaningful action is past due. NASW will continue to work on multiple fronts, with Brady and other allies, to push for change.
NASWVA encourages feedback from members on the issue. If you have comments, ideas for involvement, or other feedback, please contact NASWVA Executive Director, Debra Riggs, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
We also encourage our members to become more educated and active on this issue. Below, find some useful resources:
CONTACT YOUR LEGISLATORS: To find your legislators by zip code, and to secure contact information for them: https://whosmy.virginiageneralassembly.gov/
VOTE: Virginia’s primary is next Tuesday, June 11.
To see candidates running in your district: https://www.socialworkers.org/Advocacy/Legislative-Alerts
To learn more about issues and where candidates stand: https://www.headcount.org/issues-and-candidates/
To track bills and votes: https://www.govtrack.us/
LEARN: To read NASW’s latest social justice brief on the issue, “Gun Violence in the American Culture”: https://www.socialworkers.org/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=HlcEGsb8cy0%3d&portalid=0
ADVOCATE: To explore NASW’s Advocacy work: https://www.socialworkers.org/Advocacy
CONNECT: Other resources on the issue include: