For the second week in a row my column opens with a reference to sixteen-year-old Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg who spoke to the United Nations Climate Action Summit last week after having sailed across the Atlantic on a zero-emissions sailboat. Her message was hard hitting. As she had said to a Congressional committee, it was not necessary that she speak for a long period of time for the scientists had already spoken in the numerous reports on climate change that had been written. As a leader who had inspired weekly sit-ins outside the Swedish Parliament resulting in a growing movement of youth climate activists holding their own protests in more than 100 cities worldwide her message was clear to the world leaders: “We will be watching you…How dare you continue to look away and come here saying that you’re doing enough, when the politics and solutions needed are still nowhere in sight!”
Gun violence is an issue about which young people have become increasingly concerned as well. A student who was at the high school in Parkland, Florida, when there was the mass shooting there has been quoted in the Washington Post as saying that “You see these shootings on TV every day and very little happening around it. It’s painful to watch. And I think it’s been really hard for me and many other students and people that we work with to find hope in this time.” Once again, the young people are watching.
Students from the high school in Parkland have formed an organization called March for Our Lives whose very name indicates the seriousness with which they are approaching the issue of gun violence. They have more than 100 chapters nationwide. Their proposed plan to combat gun violence, “A Peace Plan for a Safer America,” goes well beyond the limited measures being debated in the adult world. Their plan creates a national licensing program with a gun registry, a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, a waiting period for gun purchases, and a mandatory buy-back of assault weapons. Their program may seem extreme to many, but it deserves careful attention for it is written by young people who have the experience of having survived a mass shooting where their friends around them did not survive. Once again, we can expect that these young people and others will be watching what we adults do about this issue if indeed anything is done.
Many years ago I worked in a manufacturing plant in the Shenandoah Valley with a man who as a devout member of the Brethren Church. He would regularly remind me that we should live our lives as though someone is watching us for we could be sure that someone is watching us and observing our ethics, honesty and sincerity. We may be able to talk a good game, but those observing our behavior can learn more about us than we may care for them to know. In the political world these days there is way too much talk and too little action on critical life and death issues. Young people are watching and are calling us out!
Last week while Democrats in the North Carolina House of Representatives were attending a 9/11 remembrance service, Republicans called a surprise vote to overturn the Democratic governor’s veto of the state budget. While Democrats and media were told that there would be no voting during the morning session, Democrats’ attendance at the vigil allowed Republicans to get the three-fifths vote needed to over-ride the veto.
Reaction to the maneuver has been harsh. The Charlotte Observer in an editorial said that “the verdict is now plain. North Carolina’s Republican legislative leaders–not actually leaders but connivers–are beyond shame.” The paper described what happened as a “stunning display of contempt for democracy…but this isn’t a case simply of hardball politics and sly legislative maneuvering. This is a case of breaking faith with the people…” The Senate must concur on the over-ride before it becomes effective.
Before Virginians get too smug about what happened in North Carolina we must remember what happened in the Virginia General Assembly about a month ago. With the continuing string of mass murders in the country–beginning about the time of the massacre at Virginia Tech that for a while was the largest ever and continuing through a mass shooting at a Virginia Beach municipal building–Governor Ralph Northam called a special session of the General Assembly to consider several bills intended to reduce gun violence. The special session convened on July 9 to take up bills related to gun violence but without notice to Democrats or media the Republican majority adjourned 90 minutes later without taking up any of the bills and with a return date scheduled after the elections.
There were no bills among those introduced to respond to gun violence that would have confiscated guns or altered the Second Amendment. They were common-sense bills that according to all public opinion polls I have seen are supported by more than 80 percent and some by more than 90 percent of the public. The experience in Virginia can be described by the same terms of that in North Carolina: contempt for Democracy, a travesty of the process, legislative deceit. You may have seen news reports that the Republican floor leader in the Virginia House received a $200,000 campaign contribution from the NRA several weeks later.
Partisan control of the Virginia House and Senate are on the line this November 5 as all 140 seats are on the ballot. There are numerous critically important issues on the ballot that it would take several columns to enumerate. I do want to add one that gets too little discussion and that is legislative reform. Such reform includes independent drawing of legislative district lines, or getting rid of gerrymandering, that allows the abuses of legislative power in North Carolina and Virginia that are discussed here. As the Charlotte Observer said of the situation in North Carolina, “It was an illegitimate majority acting in an unethical way.”
What happened in both states demonstrates once again that the speakership be defined not as the head of the majority party but as an impartial and fair leader. In both instances the speakers of their respective houses should have stopped these episodes of legislating by skulduggery.
In last week’s column I suggested that the record-breaking for brevity, 90-minute session of the General Assembly came about because of a dysfunctional House of Delegates and a lack of leadership by the Speaker of the House. Further evidence unfolding since I wrote that column strengthens my concern and adds to it the problem that in the Virginia House of Delegates the “fox is guarding the chicken coop.”
The Special Session of the General Assembly that was called by Governor Ralph Northam in response to increasing gun violence should have provided a forum for debate to determine a response by the legislature to keep the people of Virginia safe. Few sessions general or special have attracted as much public attention as this one with hundreds of advocates at the Capitol representing all sides of the issue.
One side got high-level special attention. Ordinary citizens and state-wide and national groups concerned about gun violence attended a rally at the Bell Tower in Capitol Square and spent the rest of the morning visiting legislative offices and milling about the street between the Pocahontas Building where legislative offices are and the State Capitol. The National Rifle Association (NRA) representatives were in the Speaker of the House of Delegates Conference Room picking up their red caps and tee shirts and no doubt getting reassurances that everything was going to be alright.
A website inviting NRA members to the event encouraged their attendance: “Governor Ralph Northam and his gun ban allies are ready to push their extreme anti-gun agenda when the General Assembly convenes its special session tomorrow–July 9th. Your NRA is calling on members and Second Amendment supporters to join in the fight against Gov. Northam’s misguided gun control proposals by coming to Richmond on July 9th to personally urge their elected officials to stand up for our rights and oppose the Northam gun ban agenda.”
The most astonishing part of the announcement came in the details of the event: “WHERE: Pocahontas Building, 6th Floor, House Conference Room.” That just happens to be the Conference Room of the Speaker of the House of Delegates!
On this topic the Speaker effectively relinquished any impartial role of conducting the business of the House and became the host for those opposing common-sense gun safety laws that according to dozens of public opinion polls are supported by an overwhelming majority of Virginians. It brings back memories of the time this same Speaker moved from his position as Speaker to take the floor of the House of Delegates to speak passionately against a women’s right to make decisions about her own reproductive health.
The announcement included some red meat to encourage participation: “Our members are concerned that Gov. Northam’s special session is a political stunt aimed at distracting from his scandals…”
With the cooperation of the Speaker of the House of Delegates we clearly have the fox guarding the chicken coop in Virginia.
The House of Delegates broke all records for brevity last week when it adjourned 90 minutes after convening. It was not because the 100-member body had become so efficient that it got all its work done; to the contrary it demonstrated how dysfunctional the body has become over the last several decades.
Brought together at the call of the Governor as he is constitutionally authorized to do, the House and the State Senate were asked to enact legislation in response to the gun violence that takes the lives of more than 1,000 citizens of our state each year including the most recent tragic mass murders of a dozen people in a Virginia Beach municipal building. The Republican majorities in both houses instead chose, on a partisan vote, to adjourn the Special Session before legislation on gun safety could even be discussed. Tellingly, the Special Session is adjourned until November 18 which happens to also be past the date of the next election.
The charade of sending the eight bills the Governor had recommended, along with the two dozen or so others that had been introduced, to the Crime Commission for study is laughable. All these bills had been introduced before and defeated in small subcommittees. There is little more that can be said about these bills other than they become more popular with the public as gun violence increases. The bill I introduced on universal background checks has been thoroughly examined over many years and in public opinion has an approval rate among voters hovering around 90 percent.
The argument that there was not time to hear the bills doesn’t ring true when you consider that a regular session of the General Assembly earlier this year considered more than 2,500 bills and resolutions in about a month and a half. All the weaving and bobbing and flimsy excuses are intended to cover up that the House of Delegates and the State Senate under present leadership have become dysfunctional.
The rules under which the Special Session was to be conducted were kept from the members and the public until the session convened even though the leadership had known the date for weeks from the Governor’s call for the session. Even more the sinister plan to do nothing by adjourning both houses came as a surprise to everyone but the smallest number of members in the Republican leadership.
One of the biggest problems in the House with its organization and operation is that the Speaker serves not as Speaker of the House but as head of the Republican majority. As a result there is no neutral arbiter to convene and conduct the business of the House. When I talked with the Right Honourable John Bercow M.P. of the British House of Commons a couple of months ago he spoke of his role as a neutral person who ensures that the House operates fairly. There is no pretense in the Virginia House that the Speaker is anything other than head of the majority party and operates the House not in fairness or impartiality but to the advantage of the majority even if that majority is secured by only one or two votes.
The House is dysfunctional as it currently operates and needs reform in the role of the Speaker.
The General Assembly went into Special Session yesterday, July 9, at the call of Governor Ralph Northam to address gun violence after a shooter with a silencer on his pistol murdered a dozen persons in a municipal building in Virginia Beach. The outcome of the session in which legislators introduced eight different bills at the request of the Governor is unknown as I write this column. I introduced the bill that I have introduced at other sessions to expand criminal background checks for all firearm transactions or universal background checks.
Virginia has had a criminal background check for gun purchases for 30 years. The system was put in place after a bill that was heavily debated and that seemed certain to be defeated was passed with the support of a senior delegate, Vic Thomas, who was an avid NRA supporter. He concluded that it was a bill the public clearly wanted and should pass because it did not interfere with the Second Amendment. In what may have been the last time the NRA took such a position, it did not support but it did not oppose the bill’s passage. Governor Gerald Baliles signed the bill into law even though he had earlier opposed any gun control legislation.
The resulting instant background check system that was put into place continues operating today. It was the promise of an instant background check without the need to wait for days for approval that was the feature that led to the bill’s passage.
There was then that continues today a major flaw in the law as originally passed that supporters had hoped to correct but have not been successful in amending. The law only applies to purchases made with federally licensed gun dealers. That’s about half the gun sales in the state each year although exact statistics are unknown because of statutory limitations on gathering information about gun sales put in place with NRA advocacy. This flaw in the law created what is referred to as the “gun show loophole.” At any of the numerous gun shows that are held throughout the Commonwealth one can purchase a gun from a federally licensed gun dealer with an instant background check; at the next table at the show a person can purchase a gun from an unlicensed dealer with no identification needed and no questions asked.
The astonishing statistic is that in 2018 the Virginia State Police conducted 446,333 firearms transactions involving licensed dealers with 3,457 of the transactions denied because of previous criminal behavior. Had the loophole in the law been closed there may have been as many as a half million more checks with a proportionally high number of persons with criminal records being denied another weapon.
What is good for the goose is good for the gander, as I have always been told. With a successful system for background checks in place for thirty years without opposition or hiccups, all gun sales should go through the system with minor exceptions related to family members. According to many polls, the public supports universal background checks at levels around 90 percent. It is time for the legislature to act or be able to explain to the public in the coming political campaign why this old adage is not being followed.
Virginians are lovers of history, including this Virginian as regular readers of this column know. This year Virginia is celebrating 400 years since the first representative legislative body met at Jamestown. Virginia is the Mother of Presidents. Virginia is for lovers of all kinds of things!
One bit of history that continues to loom large in Virginia’s psyche these days with as little mention as possible from the state apologists is the prevalence of gun violence in the Commonwealth. Twelve years ago the campus of Virginia Tech was the scene of the largest mass murder of its time. While other mass murders have occurred since then, VA Tech through no direct fault of its own continues to hold the record for the most people killed on a college campus.
Virginia last week made history again. Virginia Beach was the scene of the biggest mass murder so far this year. A dubious distinction that we would least like to have. Virginia lost 1,028 people to gun violence in 2017, and as the Governor described it, that is almost three people a day; that is more deaths than those due to vehicle accidents.
For Governor Ralph Northam and for me and countless other Virginians, we long ago have had enough. As Governor Northam said in a press conference which I took part in last week: “No one should go to work, to school, or to church wondering if they will come home. But that is what our society has come to, because we fail to act on gun violence. I will be asking for votes and laws, not thoughts and prayers.”
The laws he is seeking to get passed have been introduced in the General Assembly during its regular sessions without success. In a special session called by the Governor that will be held on July 9, only bills intended to end gun violence will be considered. And the Governor requested that “members of the General Assembly engage in an open and transparent debate and that the bills brought before the legislature are put to a vote by the entire General Assembly.”
Bills related to gun violence that have been introduced in the regular session including my bill to require universal background checks have been routinely referred by the Speaker of the House to the Militia, Police and Public Safety Committee where they are sent to a subcommittee of six members. The members of the subcommittee are appointed by the Speaker of the House, four of whom have perfect voting records of opposing any gun safety legislation. My background check bill and the approximate 15 other bills related to preventing gun violence were defeated on a predictable vote of 2 to 4 with limited discussion or debate. Yes, that’s right. Four members who are buddies with the NRA get to make the decision of 140 elected members of the General Assembly!
It is time for Virginia to make history again by leading the nation in doing the right thing to end gun violence. Voters, please pay close attention to how your elected representatives vote!
Over the past several weeks I have spent more than a dozen hours digging out at least a bushel of Star-of-Bethlehem plants and bulbs even though this time of year they look pretty with their white, six-petal blossoms. Soon the plants would have gone back into a bulb, so I dig them when they are blooming, and I can locate them.
Star-of-Bethlehem (Ornithogalum umbellatum) is a winter bulb belonging to the Lily family and blooms in late spring or early summer. It is native to the Mediterranean region and is similar to wild garlic. Star-of-Bethlehem flowers, though attractive for a few weeks when in bloom, have escaped cultivation in many areas like my flower bed. When this happens, they quickly become a danger to native and other ornamental plants. The problem is it takes over and will choke out other bulbs and plants. The only solution is to dig them out. A single plant can have dozens of bulbs that continue to multiply until removed.
While certainly not a direct analogy I could not help but think while I was digging away in my garden that in public policy there are areas where false or misleading ideas get started and are difficult if not impossible to dig out to expose the truth. Certainly, the Founding Fathers who were fresh from a revolutionary war to free themselves from the British Empire recognized the need to protect themselves in the future. As they wrote in the Constitution: “A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.” Some scholars point to the prefatory language “a well regulated Militia” to argue that the Framers intended only to restrict Congress from legislating away a state’s right to self-defense. They contend that citizens do not have an unlimited individual right to possess guns and that local, state, and federal legislative bodies therefore possess the authority to regulate firearms. The idea of an unlimited right to possess guns has taken hold and is cultivated by arms manufacturers and others to defeat the most reasonable, common-sense legislation.
So far in the first 120 days of this year according to the press there have been more than 100 mass shootings, more than 4,500 gun deaths not counting suicides with many being by assault weapons, and more than 8,400 gun injuries. These numbers have increased exponentially over the last couple of decades and show no indication of decline.
Reasonable gun safety legislation would not confiscate all guns despite what the fear mongers who lead the opposition to any gun safety legislation would have us believe. I support gun safety legislation — not eliminating gun ownership. We need to continue digging out the truth and do the hard work to have future generations act on facts and not fear. It is the only way to stop an invasion of misinformation that threatens the safety of individuals and families.
Two brothers from Reston are facing multiple felony charges after local police found weapons and drugs worth $80,000 in their home.
Fairfax County police arrested Jonathan Dailey, 27, and Timothy Dailey, 22, after a rifle, shotgun, handgun, body armor, and narcotics were found in their home, the police department reported today.
The investigation started when police discovered information about drugs being sold out of the home, police said. After receiving a search warrant, a SWAT team found seven pounds of marijuana and 250 hash oil cartridges along with the guns.
Jonathan Dailey, 27, was charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and possessing a gun with drugs. Timothy Dailey, 22, was charged with possession with intent to distribute marijuana and distribution of hash oil.
Photos via Fairfax County Police Department
Fairfax County police recently arrested a Herndon man and charged him with seven larcenies in connection with a stash of guns and drug paraphernalia.
Two weeks ago, an officer smelled marijuana coming from a car, which had been sitting in the 12100 block of Sunset Hills Road for awhile, according to the Fairfax County Police Department.
After speaking with the driver, Brandon Hernandez, 19, of Herndon, officers searched the car and discovered more than a pound of marijuana along with a handgun, ammunition, THC cartridges and cash, police say.
Police arrested Hernandez and the two passengers in the car — Kevin Fernandez, 20, of Herndon and Guillermo Alfaro, 20, of Reston.
FCPD then teamed up with the Herndon Police Department to obtain a search warrant for Hernandez’s home. Police say they ended up seizing seven loaded weapons, which have been linked to several burglaries and armed robberies in the area, and more than 450 THC vape pens.
Hernandez is currently being held without bond, and more charges are pending as detectives continue to investigate, according to police.
Images via FCPD/Facebook
Despite all the distraction associated with events in Richmond these days, the General Assembly is staying on task dealing with legislative and budgetary issues it faces.
Each house of the legislature has started to work on legislation passed by the other with conflicts resolved in conference committees made up of members from both houses. The really big conference committee is working to resolve differences on the budget. The big differences on the budget are between the Democrats and Republicans and not the two houses — how to deal with additional revenues coming to the state from the federal tax changes. Stay tuned for the differences on the budget because they will not be resolved until the last few days of the session that is scheduled to adjourn on Feb. 23.
Some good news is emerging from the session. Requiring hands-free phones in cars has been required in most other states many years ago and may finally be coming to Virginia. Research shows that the greatest cause of auto accidents is distracted driving with calls and texting being the chief reason.
I remember the many sessions that it took to pass requirements for smoke-free areas. Richmond as the cigarette manufacturing capital was finally over-ridden by popular sentiments, and smoke-free areas were legislated. Amazingly but happily the age to buy cigarettes and the latest craze of buying electronic vaping devices is being raised from age 18 to 21.
Efforts to legalize gambling establishments in areas of the state as diverse as Portsmouth, Bedford and Danville failed this year in favor of a year-long study to determine state policy. I predict we will see casinos established in the state in a few years as some regions see them as economic development and a source of new revenue offsetting anemic state funding. I voted to let a study go forward but would not support public financing of a stadium or gambling establishment.
Bills that would have decriminalized marijuana did not make it out of committee in either house. My bill introduced at the suggestion of the Chris Atwood Foundation to make Naloxone more available to reduce deaths from drug overdoses passed.
Different bills passed that purport to create a fairer way to draw legislative district boundaries, but neither comes close to the independent processes that the public has been seeking to end gerrymandering.
On the environment, bills to require Dominion to clean up their coal-ash ponds passed both houses with endorsement by major environmental groups. A bill I voted for that would have established an ambitious agenda for cleaning up the environment in Virginia failed in the House.
The Senate passed a bill to require public schools to teach a class on the Bible! I will not be voting for it if it makes its way through committee.
All the gun safety bills were defeated in both houses. A bill to make it easier to get a concealed weapon if you are from another state passed with a likely veto by the governor.
Yes, there are other big challenges in the capital these days. I will be addressing them in future columns as the facts involved become better known.
In a recent social media post, I indicated that the annual General Assembly session would be underway very soon. AutoCorrect changed the text to be “underwater very soon.” My son alerted me to the change, and I made what I thought was a correction. As the General Assembly session has gotten underway I am starting to wonder if AutoCorrect knew something that I am now coming to realize: the General Assembly may well be underwater!
The session is scheduled to go until Feb. 22. Meeting five days a week means 38 actual days for work on more than 2,000 bills and resolutions. While I have highlighted big issues like redistricting reform, preventing gun violence and ERA ratification, there are many more issues large and small that make up the agenda for the session.
Virginia has always conformed its income tax policies to the federal system. With the massive changes that have been made in federal tax law, the General Assembly will wrestle with what we will do in Virginia. There will be an effort to resolve the issue early in the session to accommodate taxpayers who want to file their returns early. Part of the tax policy debate will be making the Earned Income Tax Credit (EITC) refundable as promoted by the governor in a bill that I have introduced. The purpose would be to allow persons of low income to keep more of the money they earn and be more self-supporting.
As a Dillon Rule State — meaning local governments have only the powers granted to them by the state — dozens of bills called “local bills” are introduced to extend powers some of which are very minor to a particular locality. Another group of bills is called “housekeeping” to make corrections or clarifications to legislation that passed in previous sessions. All these bills are important but add to the workload of a session.
Challenging environmental issues will be coming before the legislature many of which relate to energy. There are proposals to increase the required uses of alternative and renewable fuels. Cleaning up from the past use of fossils fuels and the resulting growth in coal ash ponds will be taken up. There is a strong need to deal with the degradation of water quality in the Chesapeake Bay area. The Tidewater area is subject to recurrent flooding coming about with climate change that needs addressing now rather than later.
There are many bills dealing with criminal justice reform including bills intended to reduce the school to prison pipeline. The governor has announced his support of decriminalizing possession of small quantities of marijuana. A bill that has been introduced would allow casino and sports gambling.
There will be a number of dog and cat bills that include high levels of emotion from interested parties. Being able to limit dogs running across the properties of landowners is a big concern in rural areas.
You can review all the bills on the agenda of the General Assembly.
The approval last week of Virginia’s expansion of Medicaid benefits to close the coverage gap for persons of low income without health insurance coverage was an historic event. After six years of opposition the General Assembly passed the necessary authorizing legislation to allow Governor Ralph Northam to go forward with federal authorities for approval of federal health benefits for as many as 400,000 Virginians with limited income making the Commonwealth the 33rd state to enter the program.
Approval of the program was part of a budget deal that completes the current budgetary year and authorizes funding for the entirety of state government for the next biennium. The expanded program will take effect on January 1, 2019. In addition, acceptance of the federal monies that have already been paid by Virginians through the taxes supporting the Affordable Care Act allows the new budget to free up some of the state monies that have been expended to meet the needs that will now be in the Medicaid program.
About $200 million will be used to raise teacher salaries, expansion of mental health and substance-abuse services, fund almost 1,700 additional waiver slots for those with intellectual or developmental disabilities and expand preschool and programs for at-risk students.
After such an historic action, where do we go from here? Much remains to be done in changing policies in the Commonwealth which while not necessarily budgetary will have an important impact on our communities. Among these are responding to the threats to life and safety brought about with the excessive number of guns that are too often in the hands of violent individuals. Passing common sense measures like universal background checks would make a difference as well as simple measures that keep guns out of the hands of children. Inaction on ending gun violence is not going to be tolerated by citizens much longer.
We have been making slow progress on a variety of mental health issues, but there is much that still needs to be done. One step is to separate those who are mentally ill from those who are criminal. Mixing the two together in local jails and prisons has been a too-common occurrence that serves only one effectively. Likewise, separating juvenile misbehavior from criminal behavior is necessary to reduce the prison population and recidivism and to stop the classroom to prison pipeline.
We need to speed up our movement from the use of fossil fuels to renewable energy sources. With the abdicating of responsibility for environmental matters by the federal government, we need to have a more active state presence to ensure that our air and water are clean. Also, we need to ensure that our laws, institutional practices, and norms do not promote or allow racism, sexism or other discriminatory practices directed towards others for whatever reason. We need to make sure that elected and appointed public officials comport to the highest ethical and moral standards.
That’s the short list. Where do you think we should go in state government building on the success of Medicaid expansion? Let me know your thoughts [email protected] When we have clear goals and set our collective minds to the task we can get results. Expansion of Medicaid proves it!
Silver Line extension to Dulles awaits test results — “The Silver Line extension project to Dulles International Airport is now waiting on test results that could determine whether it opens on time. Project director Charles Stark told the Dulles Corridor Advisory Committee… that three problems with concrete wall panels at five stations under construction had already been identified before news of a whistleblower lawsuit broke.” [WTOP]
A local kid’s message for President Trump — Disturbed by the murders of Buckley Kuhn Fricker and Scott Fricker late last year, 10-year-old Anya Moon pens a letter to President Donald Trump about gun violence. [CNN]
For Normandy — Five ensembles by current and former Herndon High School musicians will be featured in this family-friendly concert on Sunday. All proceeds will help the school’s band travel to Normandy to participate in the 75th anniversary of D-Day. [Herndon High School]
Registration for fall soccer is now open — The Great Falls-Reston Soccer Club is accepting application starting today for a variety of programs. [Great Falls Reston Soccer Club]
Reston Pride Festival set for tomorrow — As pride month begins, the Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston is hosting Reston’s first-ever Pride Festival on Sunday. The event includes 10 performances, remarks by local politicians, exhibits, food, and music. [Unitarian Universalist Church in Reston]
Photo by Ruth Sievers
(This story was updated at 12:45 p.m. with an official count of the participants).
Roughly 800 South Lakes High School students joined their peers from all over the country for a scheduled 17-minute National School Walkout to End Gun Violence at 10 a.m. today (March 14).
Chanting phrases like “Enough is enough,” “We want change,” and “No more silence, end gun violence,” students gathered in the school’s football stadium for the rally. SLHS student Dora Ahearn-wood repeated the names of the 17 victims in the Parkland shooting in a call-and-response pattern.
A moment of silence followed.
The impetus behind the rally was especially real following a lockdown at SLHS and two other Reston public schools on Friday. Local police determined a report about a student with a gun was false.
“The lockdown was a false alarm and everyone was safe. But we should not have to live in a place where we have to see our friends texting and calling their family, terrified for their lives. We should not have to go to school and experience a lockdown because the presence of an active-shooter on campus is a real possibility. We should not have to live in a country where teenagers can have access to weapons of war,” said SLHS student Sophia Liao.
Others like Zach Schonfeld encouraged students to join survivors of the Parkland shooting in the District for the March for Our Lives. Schonfeld also encouraged students to take their grievances to the ballot box by registering to vote, volunteering for a campaign, call Congressional representatives to push for gun control and raise their voices to declare “enough is enough.”
“Whatever you do, don’t sit out on the sidelines and merely add Parkland to the tragic list that has senselessly killed so many. Next time, it could be us,” he said.
Walkout participants were marked for “cutting class” during the walkout, which fell during the third period class, according to SLHS principal Kim Retzer.
“Like any other school day, our teachers will prepare various learning activities to engage students and we expect our students to participate in their learning process. Should students leave class, teachers will continue with their instruction to all students who remain in the classroom,” Retzer wrote in a statement.
Students at other area schools like Langston Hughes Middle School in Reston and Floris Elementary School in Herndon also participated in similar walkouts.
Footage by ABC News linked below mistakenly indicated SLHS students walked off of school grounds. The footage is not from SLHS.
Students at South Lakes High School in Reston, Virginia walk out of their classrooms to protest for stricter gun laws as part of #NationalWalkoutDay. https://t.co/Yf340llQUp pic.twitter.com/gqMc7ZcaQz
— Good Morning America (@GMA) March 14, 2018
Pushed by the mass shooting at Florida high school this year, students at South Lakes High School will stage a walkout on Wednesday at 10 a.m., joining more than 2,200 schools nationwide as part of the #Enough National School Walkout to End Gun Violence.
For organizers, the need for the walkout – the second at the high school following the Florida shooting – came to life on Friday when three Reston schools were under a lockdown after students reported they saw another student with a gun. Police determined the report was false.
Students like Sophia Liao, Zachary Schonfeld and Dora Ahearn-Wood said they want legislators to go beyond tweeting thoughts and prayers by passing legislation to prevent gun violence.
“We should feel safe in our schools, and not have to worry if we are next. Just last Friday, we got lucky. The lockdown was quickly found to be a false alarm through the diligent work of school administration and police. But we should not have to live in a place where we have to see our friends texting and calling their families, terrified for their lives. This is not normal, and it needs to change,” Liao said.
The walkout will be the second for South Lakes High School students. Last month, more than 200 students stepped out of class in the middle of the day to remember victims of the Parkland shooting.
On Wednesday, students plan to stand outside for 17 minutes to honor each victim of the shooting. The walkout will also include remarks and chants from student organizers, according to a release by the South Lakes Young Democrats club.
Although the club is organizing the walkout, organizers said participants are from varying political backgrounds and the walkout is a school-wide initiative. Students also plan to initiate a “call to action” by encouraging participants to vote, call their elected representatives and become involved in political discourse.
“We might not all be experts on gun policy, but we do know that the current status quo is not working,” organizers said.