The Virginia State Crime Commission certainly got an earful during its two days of hearings on possible gun reform.
Whether that information will translate into action is an open question.
In fact, the commission heard from people armed with fact as well as those moved by emotion. The first day of hearings focused primarily on expert testimony; the second, on pleas from people whose loved ones had suffered gun violence — including parents of survivors of the Virginia Tech massacre — as well as from factions resisting tighter gun laws.
One expert pointed out that although mass shootings get the attention, they are relatively rare. More people are killed by the “awful grinding, everyday gun violence that we deal with every day in our cities,” said David Kennedy, director of the National Network for Safe Communities at John Jay College of Criminal Justice.
The chairman of the Republican-dominated commission picked up on that difference. He called Mr. Kennedy’s ideas “innovative.”
Those ideas seem to parallel proposals by the House majority leader, Republican Todd Gilbert, to curb gun violence by having police and community leaders do a better job of identifying those most likely to shoot someone or be shot, and then to offer both support to the community and stern crackdowns on violators.
If makes a certain amount of sense to cut off gun violence at its source — if that can be done. There is some evidence that such strategies work if they are properly and forcefully implemented — a very big if. These strategies would require more community resources, money included, but communities at risk of gun violence often lack such resources.
Another proposal would shift responsibility for controlling gun violence even more dramatically. Sen. Bill Stanley, R-Franklin, has suggested holding companies liable for not effectively addressing violence or threats of violence.
He also has proposed that all employees in state and local government buildings be screened at security checkpoints.
Screening protocols might be effective, if somewhat oppressive. But holding companies responsible for not properly addressing threats? We already know how difficult it is to recognize threats; the Virginia Beach shooter is just one example in which there was little to no warning that the perpetrator was on the edge of violence.
This seems a strange proposal from the usually business-friendly Republicans.
At the same time, the more typical “red flag” laws have gained some support even from a handful of Republicans. These laws allow authorities to remove guns temporarily from an owner who is displaying clear signs of mental instability. Democratic and Republican versions of such laws each require the person to appear before a judge to satisfy Fourth Amendment concerns over confiscation of property, but the Republican version includes more steps to the process and shorter time periods for the person to be subject to the court order.
Red flag laws are relatively new across the country, which means they don’t have a long history that can be analyzed for effectiveness. However, the limited data available does support their utility.
These are by no means all the gun reform bills that will be circulating through the General Assembly — more than 70 of them have been filed so far.
Like the red flag law, some bills involve well-known proposals such as restricting gun sales, instituting universal background checks, banning high-capacity magazines and other similar suggestions.
The commission will make its report on these proposals in mid-November — before the start of the next General Assembly, but after the next election.
But it is doubtful that the more sweeping measures suggested would gain the support of a Republican legislature — or even the support of the crime commission in the interim.