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.

They are:

  • 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.

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[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