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Florida Shooting - Press Release

Posted in News
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February 16, 2018
Richmond, Virginia

I am appalled by the act of evil we saw in Florida this week and heartbroken for the victims, their families, and all of those affected. The House of Delegates adjourned Thursday in the Honor and Memory of the victims and their families.

It is a sad day when parents are more concerned about the safety of their children at school than them leaning. The Florida shooter showed every sign of someone capable of committing such a heinous act. We must make sure that those who act suspicious and those who display signs of violence are monitored closely and not allowed to slip through politically correct cracks.

I still believe that we have a “society problem” and not a gun problem and would like to point out some steps the House of Delegates has taken to address gun violence since I was elected in 2009.

Keeping our Schools Safe

  • We believe schools are for learning, not violence, and the House has taken concrete steps to prevent gun violence and make our schools safer.
  • In 2017, we passed legislation (HB 1392) to allow school systems to hire retired police officers for school security. This approach saved school systems money and made schools safer.
  • In 2013, the House passed HB 2343, creating the "School Security Infrastructure Improvement Fund" and "Local School Safety Fund."
  • This recurring grant fund allows the Department of Criminal Justice Services to offer grants of up to $100,000 per locality and require a 25% local match. Localities are allowed to use the money to fund upgrades to school security like hallway cameras, buzz-in systems and automatic locks on classroom doors.
  • The 2013, 2014 and 2015 budgets appropriated approximately $6 million per year for school security infrastructure grants.

Gun Violence

  • Gun violence is a serious problem. A common thread through many of these tragedies is a shortcoming in our mental health care system.
  • Republicans are committed to improving public safety while protecting our Constitutional right—an individual right—to keep and bear arms.
  • Yet despite the appearance of more tragedies, the fact that gun violence has dropped by half in the last 22 years, not because of more gun control but because of increased law enforcement training.
  • Virginia has a zero-tolerance policy on gun violence. Virginia has some of the strongest laws in the country when it comes to gun crimes. We simply do not tolerate gun violence or gun crimes.
    • It’s a Class 6 felony to use a firearm to commit a felony
    • You can be sentenced to up to 20 years in prison for committing sexual battery with a firearm
    • Committing a burglary with a firearm carries a minimum 20-year sentence
  • The best way to combat gun violence right now—is to (a) enforce our existing laws, (b) strengthen and reform our mental health care system, (c) stand against efforts to weaken criminal sentences by bringing back parole, and (d) protect the rights of law-abiding citizens who simply want to protect themselves.

Enforce Existing Laws

We can prevent gun violence by enforcing our existing laws.

  • We have a strong system of background checks that includes a mental health database created after the 2007 tragedy at Virginia Tech.
  • Virginia Law enforcement is ahead of the curve nationally when it comes to tracing firearms used in gun crimes.
  • Our Commonwealth’s Attorneys should prosecute gun crimes to the full extent of the law.
  • We must continue to give our law enforcement officers the funding and resources they need to enforce the law.

Strengthening Mental Health Care

We know that there is a crisis that needs to be addressed. There are too many examples of faults in our mental health care system where people with serious mental health care needs are perpetuating tragedy. We need to close the gaps in our mental health care system. A Washington Post poll shows that an overwhelming majority of Americans (63%) believe that the focus should be on mental health solutions, not new gun laws. Republicans agree.

  • Virginia took a series of steps after the 2007 tragedy at Virginia Tech and again after the incident involving the tragic death of Senator Creigh Deed’s son earlier this year.
  • Added mental health information to the gun background check database (2007)
    • Expanded the length of time for “Emergency Detention Orders” so law enforcement can act quickly to care for someone who needs treatment (2014)
    • The House of Delegates has made these services a priority, investing over $175 million in the healthcare safety net since 2014.
    • In 2014, the budget included a $54 million investment to strengthen mental and community behavioral health services.
    • In 2015, the budget included $132.9 million for the healthcare safety net. This will provide targeted services for ~22,000 seriously mentally-ill patients and fund behavioral health community services including three new PACT teams and six new drop-off centers.
    • We have created 32 “drop-off centers” and 26 PACT Teams to address mental health needs.

Protecting Law Abiding Citizens

New gun laws will make it more difficult for law abiding citizens to protect themselves from dangerous acts of violence while doing nothing to stop criminals.

I would encourage all school systems to take advantage of the school safety grants to update school security measures including installing metal detectors and seeking volunteers to monitor school premises during the day such as retired law enforcement, veterans and other trained security people.

Unfortunately we have to think “outside the box” on how best to keep our children safe while they are in school. Simply taking guns away from law abiding citizens who want to protect their families is not the answer.