Parents of Tech victims seek law changes


Families and friends of the victims of last year’s Virginia Tech shootings promised to hold state representatives’ feet to the fire to revamp gun laws during the upcoming General Assembly session.

State lawmakers heard comments on the 2008 legislative session from area residents last week. Multiple speakers asked them to ban guns on campuses and to close the gun show loophole this year.

Joe Samaha, a Centreville resident and father of victim Reema Samaha, begged lawmakers to defy politics and close the gun show loophole by mandating background checks at gun shows where unlicensed dealers sell weapons.  This issue is not blue or red. This issue is not urban or rural. This issue is common sense and it is about public safety for all Virginia citizens, Samaha said.

He went on to describe to legislators the trauma of learning his daughter had been killed in her classroom, and of his life without her.

Seung-Hui Cho, a 2003 graduate of Westfield High School who had been identified as having a mental disorder, shot and killed 32 students and wounded several others at Virginia Tech before killing himself on April 16, 2007.

Del. Tom Rust (R) called the testimonies on Jan. 5 extremely moving and effective and said he would support closing the gun show loophole.

The Virginia Tech shootings have already affected the upcoming session, with the governor’s proposed budget allocating additional funds to improve the state’s mental health services and numerous legislators promising to closely consider mental health reform and gun laws.

Both Rust and Del. Chuck Caputo (D) said they are sponsoring legislation to close the gun show loophole. Caputo is also sponsoring legislation to ban guns in libraries and daycare centers, he said.

But others, such as Sen. Ken Cuccinelli (R), said they think the proposed gun reforms will be less likely to pass. Cuccinelli said though he feels mightily for victims of the Virginia Tech shootings, he will not forget the fact that nothing tragic has occurred in Virginia because someone purchased a gun at a show.  He doesn’t think gun show loophole bills will get the votes they need from other parts of the state.  Getting those votes will depend on the presumption that the Virginia Tech testimonies will dramatically change votes, Cuccinelli said. I just don’t think that’s true.

What most disturbs me is the political posturing that occurred then and still continues,” Lu Ann McNabb, a friend of the Samaha family, said. “‘This is not the time to talk about guns’ if not now, then when? When 50 die?

Peter Read, an Annandale resident and father of Tech victim Mary Read, told legislators that passing laws to keep guns away from people who shouldn’t have them will be the task which will require profiles in courage from each of you.

Times Staff Writer Gregg MacDonald contributed to this report.