Communities in Virginia and across the country are reeling from a devastating start to the year with the recent back-to-back mass shootings in California, and earlier in the month learning that a six-year-old obtained access to a gun, shot, and seriously wounded his teacher. We are devastated and exhausted from hearing time and time again about another shooting. I know the power that common sense gun safety laws have in protecting our communities — and I know first-hand that securely storing a firearm can be the difference between a bad day and a deadly one.
When I was struggling with depression, there were moments where I was in crisis. Thankfully, my father paid attention to securely storing his gun, and a hard moment for me never turned into a deadly one. I was fortunate enough to get help, and eventually created a future for myself. Now I am an advocate who can educate parents and lawmakers on the importance of securing firearms. But, tragically, my dear friend from high school, Sam, did not have the same experience that I did — he had access to a gun and he died by firearm suicide in 2006.
We grew up in a community where guns are a part of our culture, but the importance of securing them was never a subject of conversation — and I knew that needed to change. Each year, as Virginia mourns the people taken from us at Virginia Tech, I also revisit the trauma of losing my friend and wonder if he would still be alive today if the gun he accessed was properly secured.
Moms Demand Action and the Everytown Survivor Network have given me a space to grapple with my trauma from gun violence, to stand shoulder to shoulder with people across the nation fighting for secure storage and other life saving gun safety laws and to build awareness among community members about common-sense solutions that can prevent the tragedies that happened with my friend and the shooting in Newport News. I have found a collective power in this movement, and am honored to share in the celebration of 10 years of life-saving work by Moms Demand Action this year. I am inspired by how far we have come but I am also reminded of my own experiences being raised by responsible gun owners and am compelled to acknowledge the work that we must continue to do to keep our communities safe.
Since 2020, our volunteers in Virginia have secured major wins for gun safety including background checks on all gun sales and prohibiting guns in sensitive locations like Capitol Square and polling places. Our volunteers have also worked to give local governments the power to decide if they want to prohibit guns in government buildings and at permitted events. As of now, 17 localities covering 2.8 million Virginians have enacted such ordinances – ordinances which could have helped to prevent the armed extremist attack in Charlottesville in 2017. Our volunteers have also worked with schools across Virginia to ensure students and their families are educated about the importance of secure storage — I don’t want any family to have to experience what my friend's family went through. Knowing firearms are properly secured has the power to remove the “what ifs” that so many, including myself, ask ourselves every day.
As legislators gather for this session, Moms Demand Action volunteers are ready to work with lawmakers to pass and implement life-saving gun safety laws, such as expanding the scope of our existing secure storage laws to prevent children from accessing firearms.
Last month we held our annual Advocacy Day. More than 250 Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action volunteers from as far away as Franklin County joined Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, at the state capital in Richmond to encourage lawmakers to pass gun safety laws that will protect our communities and save lives.
We’ve spent a decade building political power from within, serving as a boot camp for the next generation of gun sense candidates. Advocacy Day was just a glimpse of the strength of our movement, and I am proud that because my dad knew how to properly secure his gun, I am able to be a part of a national organization that is committed to working hand in hand with leaders at all levels to ensure that families come home safely at night. Our work is not done — but we have the conviction and courage to press on because we believe that we can live in a world without gun violence.
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call or text 988, or visit 988lifeline.org/chat to chat with a counselor from the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. The 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline provides 24/7, free, and confidential support to people in suicidal crisis or emotional distress anywhere in the U.S.