To the editor:
In 2020, Alexandria became the first jurisdiction in the Commonwealth of Virginia to act under authority granted by the General Assembly to curb gun violence in public spaces. City Council unanimously endorsed an ordinance prohibiting firearms and ammunition in city-owned facilities, parks and areas requiring special permits.
Recent events locally, especially those involving minors, and data nationally related to gun ownership and violence suggest that additional actions may be warranted to advance public safety. Given the outcome of the recent statewide election, it is unlikely that new authority will be forthcoming from Richmond to local governments regarding gun control. There are actions we can take despite this reality.
According to Everytown, the COVID-19 pandemic has intensified the gun violence crisis in America. They estimated there were 3,906 additional firearm deaths and 9,278 additional firearm injuries in 2020 compared to 2019. Moreover, firearm purchases soared in 2020 to the highest level in half a century. The Brady Center estimated that 5.3 million guns were sold from January through March 2021 and if that buying rate continues through the rest of the year, it would exceed by a big margin the total guns sold in 2020.
Unintentional shooting deaths by children increased by one-third and firearm injuries recently surpassed car accidents as the leading cause of death for our nation’s children, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Studies also show that about 75% of shooters under 18 years old obtained the gun from their home or the home of relatives or friends. The recent school shooting in Michigan tragically brings these facts into plain view.
We seek the adoption of a gun safety initiative by City Council and our School Board that makes gun safety and proper storage of firearms a lasting community value, including measures such as:
• distributing free gun locks and educational materials to all interested gun owners;
• encouraging healthcare providers to inquire of patients whether there is a gun in the home and, if so, if it is locked and stored properly; and,
• requesting that all parents or guardians pledge to prevent unsupervised child access to guns.
Research provides justification for this initiative.
National data indicates about 7% of all children in the U.S. live in a house in which at least one gun is stored in an unsafe manner.
A Johns Hopkins University study found that gunshot wounds hospitalize an average of 8,300 U.S. kids each year and almost 1,300 children die from gunfire. An estimated 21% of the injuries and deaths are unintentional; of the remaining 79% intentional shootings, the vast majority were the result of suicides, homicides or domestic violence.
A proactive gun safety campaign that emphasizes education and prevention should be embraced as a community value. We have the vision and the capacity for taking small but meaningful steps toward gun safety in our community.
-Sarah Bagley, City Councilmember-elect; Richard Merritt, member, Alexandria Public Health Advisory Commission