Del. Ken Plum: Protecting Our Families

Del. Ken Plum/File photoThis is a commentary by Del. Ken Plum (D), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

In the week that I was in Chicago for the annual Legislative Summit of the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL), there was a record 100 people shot in the city in less than a week. According to data kept by the Chicago Tribune, there had been by that time 2,514 shooting victims–about 800 more than at the same time last year.

Between the Friday afternoon after I had arrived and the next Thursday morning, at least 99 people were shot in the city — 24 of them fatally. Among the wounded was a 10-year-old boy who was shot in the back.

Although I was in the city, I had no direct or personal knowledge of what was going on. I was downtown in the McCormick Convention Center part of the city, and I saw no violence and heard no police sirens. What I knew came from reading the newspaper. The experience reminded me that although most of us fortunately live outside areas of violence, we can never be sure of when our sense of safety can be shattered and the next instance of gun violence can happen in or near our community.

Who would have thought that a record for mass murders would be set in Virginia in 2007 when 32 people were killed and 17 wounded on a college campus? That record was broken in 2016 in an Orlando, Florida, nightclub when a gunman killed 49 people and wounded 53. Mass murders that for most of our history did not take place are becoming too frequent. But beyond the mass murders there are more than 33,000 gun deaths and more than 130,000 people shot per year in this country.

According to the organization Americans for Responsible Solutions, Americans are 25 times more likely to be murdered with a gun than people in other developed countries like ours. They report that from 2005-2015 71 Americans were killed by terrorist attacks on U.S. soil while 301,797 were killed by gun violence during the same period. Their shocking statistics show that since the Sandy Hook tragedy in 2012 a child under 12 has been killed by intentional or accidental gunfire every other day. More than 50 gun suicides occur on average every day in our country making guns the most common and lethal means of suicide.

We cannot let these numbers become the norm for our country nor can we let ourselves become desensitized to the public health menace that gun violence has become. That is why I and others participate in an End Gun Violence Vigil at the headquarters of the National Rifle Association (NRA) on the 14th of every month to keep in the public mind the role that gun manufacturers and others play with their campaign contributions and lobbying in defeating commonsense gun safety laws.

I hope that gun violence becomes a major issue in the current presidential and congressional campaigns. I will be introducing a universal background check bill in the next session of the General Assembly.

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