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EDITORIAL: Enough is enough

Virginians were devastated when 32 people were killed and 17 wounded at Virginia Tech in 2007. The second deadliest shooting rampage in U.S. history brought unspeakable grief to a state that sends its children to the public university in Blacksburg. Citizens looked to elected leaders across the state for answers.

More than a decade later, a conflicted commonwealth sticks to its guns as school massacres continue. On Valentine’s Day, 17 people were killed in mass shooting at a Florida high school. Columbine. Sandy Hook. Virginia Tech. Now Parkland. The communities have become part of a tragic American narrative.

In Virginia, a state that brags about civility and moderation, the narrative quickly turns to a political argument.

“It’s senseless. My heart goes out,” Del. Thomas C. Wright Jr. (R-Lunenberg) told The Washington Post following last week’s shooting in Florida. “But when it comes to the constitutional right to defend yourself and your family, that's something that’s guaranteed.”

Delegate Wright’s heart is as confused as his head. Just whose family was 19-year Nikolas Cruz defending when he killed 17 people at a high school with an AR-15 assault rifle?

No one is seeking to repeal the Second Amendment. Citizens just want to ensure the safety of their children. Making it difficult to obtain an assault weapon is a good place for rational people -- including Virginia legislators -- to take reasonable action.

Wright chairs Subcommittee One of the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee, where most gun bills go to die in the Virginia legislature. The Republican-controlled House of Delegates and a strident lobbyist group, the Virginia Citizens Defense League, have effectively killed dozens of bills proposing reforms. They included closing the gun-show loophole, more rigorous background checks, requiring a minor to get parental permission before keeping guns in the home, requiring home daycare facilities to keep guns locked when children are being cared, or letting localities forbid firearms or ammunition at major public events.

Public opinion in Virginia favors reforms, but only slightly. A Quinnipiac poll last summer found that 51 percent of Virginians support stricter gun laws in general. Additionally, 91 percent said they favor requiring background checks for all gun buyers, something the legislature continues to resist.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D), a moderate on gun control, won election last fall partly on promises of common-sense gun-control measures. All of Northam’s gun-control bills have been defeated in the current legislative session, even as tragedy strikes again in schools.

Some conservative legislators think the answer is to introduce more guns into society. Following the Florida shootings, state Sen. Dick Black (R-Loudoun) offered a stark alternative to gun-control legislation: a shoot-out. Black suggests that teachers and coaches in schools be armed and shoot back.

“... we don't need to just take enemy fire; we need to fire back,” Black wrote on the web page of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. “I'm tired of telling kids to run and hide if they're attacked.”

Meantime, the powerful gun-advocacy group was celebratory last week when the entire gun-reform agenda was blocked in the Virginia legislature.

“GUN CONTROL TAKES IT ON THE CHIN. YES!!!” VCDL proclaimed on its Facebook page.

No mention on VCDL website of the horrific news from Florida that came hours earlier.

A different kind of reaction now comes from high school students who gathered in Florida and outside the White House last weekend. They demanded that adults take responsibility for the inaction on gun control that takes the lives of their classmates.

“Enough is enough,” they chanted.

Enough is enough. Opening hearts and offering prayers is an inadequate response to a problem in which the Virginia legislature, Congress and the White House turn a blind eye.

“Evidence collected over many years, obtained from many locations, indicates that the power of prayer is insufficient to stop bullets from killing school children,” the astrophysicist Neil deGrasse Tyson tweeted following the hollow responses by politicians to the Parkland killings.

You don’t have to be an astrophysicist to understand what to do. Defending gun rights in the wake of the mass murders of children is nothing short of shameful. The failure of our elected leaders to pass gun controls is nothing short of dereliction of duty.

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