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Del. Ken Plum: Follow the Children

by Del. Ken Plum March 8, 2018 at 10:15 am 33 Comments

This is a commentary from Del. Ken Plum (D-Fairfax), who represents Reston in Virginia’s House of Delegates. It does not reflect the opinion of Reston Now.

Last week I ended a walking tour of Capitol Grounds as I always do with a stop at the Virginia Civil Rights Memorial that is between the Executive Mansion and the Capitol. The Memorial is very attractive as a physical structure, and the story it tells is especially meaningful to Virginia’s history. Featured prominently on the Memorial is a bronze statue of 16-year-old high school student Barbara Johns. In April of 1951 Barbara had become increasingly upset at the fact that she had to attend school in a tar-paper building without adequate heat or a gymnasium while the white kids in the area attended a new brick school.

The plan she put together led to all the students walking out to dramatize the unfairness and inequities of the segregated school system. Once the differences were so dramatically shown, there was no going back. Two NAACP lawyers agreed to represent the students, and their case made it to the Supreme Court and was combined with the Brown v. Board of Education case decided in 1954. It took another decade for Virginia to desegregate its schools.

As I recounted that story to the visitors to the Capitol it became clear to me that we are at another Barbara Johns moment in Virginia albeit of a very different kind. I shared my realization with members of the House of Delegates in a floor speech last week. I pointed out that the children of the Commonwealth are bringing to our attention our failure to pass any kind of legislation to keep them safe from gun violence. Not only have common-sense gun safety bills not been passed, they have been defeated with the most minimal debate and with as few as four votes in a subcommittee defeating them. A bill that would have allowed guns in places of worship was withdrawn at the very last minute.

As guns and the violence of which they are a part proliferate, the students through their walking out of schools and by their expressions of concern are seeking answers that incumbent legislators are going to have to answer. I told my colleagues that we could expect when we get back home in a few weeks to get questions as to our lack of action to address gun violence as an issue that warranted our attention. We can expect to get these questions first from our children and our grandchildren and at appearances at educational and civic events. There really is not an adequate answer that will make sense to the children and to parents. My youngest grandchildren often follow my answers to their questions with a follow-up, “why?” Try telling a child that one person’s constitutional right can take away another person’s life.

Society had to answer the questions raised by Barbara Johns and her classmates even as it took decades. We now have to answer the questions raised by the children at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Florida and those expressed here in Virginia. The General Assembly cannot tarry in taking action. Lives depend on it!

File photo

  • Mike M

    Civil rights spring from the Constitution. Had we not our Constitution Brown v Board would have been resolved another way. The Second Amendment to our Constitution is about upholding civil rights. It’s organic to the whole body of the Constitution. Murder is already against the law, Ken. But laws only affect the law abiding. Why would you want to take away the rights of the law-abiding? Why?

    Ken stop hiding behind kids and the civil rights movement. You trivialize the civil rights movement when you try to equate every beef with it. It’s disgusting.

    For once, stop the vague verbal hand waving about “common sense gun laws” and explain how any proposal would stop bad things from happening. Nearly every proposal I have read would have done NOTHING to stop notable mass murders committed with firearms.

    Tell your kids that bad things will happen. That was one thing that separated my kids from others less well brought up. There will be car accidents, kids. Suffering is a part of life. So is death. There have been many who had to die to defend our country against external tyranny. Our firearms can help with that, and with the internal tyranny, Ken.

    By the way, kids know little about these matters. They skip school whenever they have permission from their righteous parents and teachers.

  • OneReally

    “Try telling a child that one person’s constitutional right can take away another person’s life.”

    There it is. Common sense legislation to you means eventually repealing the 2nd.

    • Guest

      We don’t need to repeal the 2nd A. The courts have already ruled (Justice Scalia no less) that reasonable regulation of firearms and their users is perfectly acceptable. What we have are gutless state and federal legislators who don’t take the words of Justice Scalia and company to heart.

      • OneReally

        I have no problem with ” reasonable regulation of firearm” I do feel we need it.

        I don’t think we need “knee jerk” reactions from people like Ken P.

        • Willie Reston

          Mass school shootings have been occurring with alarming regularity for 20 straight years, but trying to do something about it now is somehow a “knee jerk” reaction? What planet have you been living on?

          • TheRealODB

            Actually, school shootings are down since the 90s… and firearm ownership is WAY up… just saying.

  • meh

    Ken, just think of gun rights like abortion. You’re fine with killing babies in the womb right? So this should be fine too….In both cases the child has no say in the matter.

  • Mike M

    So, my comment is under review for reasons unknown.

    • Willie Reston

      “reasons unknown”

      • Mike M

        Yes, Willie. There are rules. I didn’t break any, So . . . Anything thing else about which I can educate you?

  • Cujo Isalive

    Just to add a little color to this discussion (see below). And BTW I agree with the first two elephants … just sane.


  • Ken Bum

    Ken, are you concerned about the societal decay that produces mass shooters? Or are you just out to get the guns?

    • whodat

      You mean like single family households?

      Look at the trend of mass shootings with the decline of two-parent households where the father is actually at home. It’s clear as day.

      Of course we can never bring up the lack of a father in the household because a certain demographic rarely knows who their father even is

      • Willie Reston

        Umm, mass shooters are almost never of the “certain demographic” you allude to. They’re usually suburban or rural middle-class white guys.

  • Willie Reston

    How do Conservatives manage to get through their days with so much blood on their hands?

    • Paul

      What a horrible thing to say. With a broad brush you paint all people that hold a conservative political viewpoint responsible for a horrific event where children were killed.

      Are you looking for an actual discussion here or just lashing out? My question is: Why have schools not been made more secure over the last 20 years?

      • Guest

        …Because suburban white people like you don’t want to send their kids into schools equipped with armed guards, random pat-downs of students and locker sweeps, electronic screening, and locked doors to the playground, such as is common in many inner city schools. (Something about such an environment not being conducive to learning, perhaps?). The only time I ever saw a “resource officer” in action was when they were detaining a student for alledged misbehavior…

        • Paul

          Another person using the broad brush to classify large groups of people….”because suburban white people..”

          For me, quite the opposite is true. Every school should have armed security, metal detectors, and tighter control. Large high schools such as SLHS should have at least 3 armed security people.

          • Willie Reston

            But, Paul, who is going to pay for all of that added security?

          • Paul

            We, the people…the taxpayers of course, we pay for everything.

            I would estimate an annual cost of 60-65 million dollars on the high end (1 armed guard at every school and 3 armed guards at every high school, about 200 schools in FFX City). That number assumes a median cost of $70,000 per guard. It’s less than 2.5% of the 2.8 billion dollar school budget….a small price to pay for securing the children.

            We KNOW schools are vulnerable, how can anyone look at this and say it’s not worth doing?

          • John Higgins

            I’ll step forward to say it is not worth doing. Are there measures that can improve security at schools? Certainly, but realistically they are small increments. If the objective is to make it more challenging for a disgruntled student to commit mayhem, the $60 million per year could do that. But these young folks are unbalanced, not stupid. Ask yourself, “If I am intent on committing an act of extreme violence, I know the building, the routines of the student body, and the security vulnerabilities (which will always exist), will I be deterred?” At various times of the day there are scores, or hundreds, of students outside the building (viz. sports events) – does this secure building afford the protection we would like? Of course not.
            This is not a call to do nothing. In my view, physical security is a distant second to efforts to identify would-be perpetrators and to have sensible plan to channel their hostility to a path toward eliminating it. There are thousands of school districts across the country asking the same questions. The combined resources are enormous. At-risk profiles are achievable and actionable. I suspect this could also lead to a better understanding of the root causes.

        • The Constitutionalist

          It’s really interesting as inner cities have the toughest gun control laws yet need to take the most countermeasures.

  • Elisabeth Springer

    I am from The Netherlands, a country where guns are very strictly regulated. Of course people here are concerned about their constitutional rights. That is clear to me. What is not clear to me at all is why there is such a to-do about regulating the sale of firearms that are clearly intended to kill as many people as possible with the least amount of effort. In my limited experience with hunting, rifles and shotguns are used. For self-protection, it is a lot handier to use a handgun than some large and heavy gun. What’s wrong with imposing an age limit, or a waiting period, or not selling a firearm to certain people? I sure would feel a lot safer if those types of restrictions were imposed, and probably those teenagers in Florida too.

    • John Higgins

      I suspect the vast majority share your view. As with all matters, there is a wide spectrum of views as to where to draw lines. We have restrictions on what types of weapons may be purchased; age restrictions; rules on who cannot purchase them. It’s a question of where the lines are drawn.

      Some believe there should be an age 21 line. Maybe. Is that as sensible in Montana or Alaska as it is in Florida? Can a young man returned from two tours of duty in Afghanistan be considered too young to own a rile? Apart from machine guns (already prohibited), virtually every long gun is semi-automatic. Do we regulate them based on how they look? Based on their weight and reliability? This is not an area that invites a simple answer. And while we focus on the instrument, we are distracted from understanding (and addressing) the reason young folks too frequently commit these horrific acts.

      • Elisabeth Springer

        No, Mr. Higgins, there is no simple answer. But you can start somewhere, and perhaps starting with further restricting access to weapons is something you can go on from, and do it right. People like us are looking for an answer to why someone would commit such a terrible act. Talking to this person, who perhaps unintentionally survived this latest horror, will hopefully provide more insight.

        • The Constitutionalist

          The 2nd amendment is not the answer to your question.

    • 40yearsinreston

      a AR-15 is easier to cuddle than a handgun

    • The Constitutionalist

      One must only take a look at American history to answer your questions.

      • Elisabeth Springer

        Having lived in this country for almost 40 years, I am well aware of American history. A discussion as to the whys and wherefores of the 2nd amendment is, in my view, not useful in this context.

    • Mike M

      I volunteer to help you pack for your trip back to Nederland.

      Gun rights are intended to remind the government that the people have teeth!

  • RoadApples

    The right to owe guns is fundamentally simple:
    To discourage a possible overbearing Government from abusing the right for US Citizens their freedom.

  • Conservative Senior

    There are so many car accidents…………let’s ban cars! Very crazy idea. The shooting problem is not the gun, it’s the shooter. Every shooter has had some type of mental problem which needs to be addressed. I think that some teenagers need to look at themselves. Their bullying & ostracizing of some classmates definitely is a major problem. Just because the kid isn’t as pretty/handsome, doesn’t have stylish clothes or cars or live in the best home, is no reason for you to think that you are superior & have the right to be cruel. Look in the mirror..are you helping to create the next tragedy? Be kind & make a difference.


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