City council passes non-binding gun control resolution

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By Alexa Epitropoulos | aepitropoulos@alextimes.com

City council passed a gun control resolution at its Tuesday night legislative meeting in the wake of a high school shooting in Parkland, Florida that has reignited the gun violence debate nationally.

The resolution was introduced shortly before the meeting at the request of Mayor Allison Silberberg. The resolution doesn’t take any direct action, but urges the Virginia General Assembly to pass common sense gun reform, including background checks, prohibiting armor-piercing ammunition, banning assault weapons, high-capacity magazines and bump stocks and mental health support.

Alexandria Police Department Chief Michael Brown and Interim Alexandria City Public Schools Superintendent Dr. Lois Berlin were present to answer questions and talk about how both organizations were contending with safety issues.

Berlin said city schools have addressed the issue by changing the configuration of schools so visitors are required to go through the office and gain a visitor badge before entering and training school faculty in ALICE, a system that stands for “alert, lock down, inform, counter and evacuate.”

“The events in Parkland, Florida were very sobering, not only because of what happened, but because there have been 18 school shootings in a year’s time and one is too many,” Berlin said. “[ACPS] has been very proactive about student and staff safety. It’s one of the most important things to us.”

Brown said the police department has worked to learn from every incident that’s occurred across the country and from local incidents, including the lock down and shooting at Eugene Simpson Stadium Park in June and the evacuation of Francis C. Hammond Middle School in January after a bomb threat. Brown said officers have also gone through active shooter training. Brown said the department has also entered into a memorandum of understanding with fellow police jurisdictions, which could help if an incident were to occur in Alexandria.

Brown said the schools and the police department are also working together and holding frequent joint meetings.

“The real issue is trying to prevent those things. There are lessons to be learned out of Parkland as more facts become known,” Brown said.

Though the resolution was approved unanimously, Vice Mayor Justin Wilson and Councilor John Chapman said the city should explore ways to get illegal guns off the street and empower local businesses to know their rights.

“In adopting this resolution, it might be good to give direction to the [city manager] to bring together departments that deal with these issues and come up with concrete things for consideration during the budget process and consideration for a policy that we might work to accelerate efforts to get guns off the street,” Wilson said.

“It’s an opportunity to really encourage or recognize local businesses that know and exercise their right to not allow certain weapons,” Chapman said. “… We’re limited in real action, but what’s most important is when seven of us say ‘This is the climate we want to have for the city.’”

Silberberg said, though the resolution doesn’t take action, it’s at least putting the city’s voice out there.

“While it might seem like a voice in the wilderness, it’s a voice. … We are already looking, already working with staff to look at things we should be doing. This resolution … does specify a number of common sense gun reform laws that we should push.”

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