Following the shooting deaths of three students at the University of Virginia Sunday night, Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin faced calls to implement stricter gun control laws in Virginia.
Law enforcement officials were still gathering details Monday about the shooting and hadn’t determined how the alleged shooter, Christopher Darnell Jones Jr., obtained the firearm used to kill three university football players. It’s unclear if any law would have prevented the shooting spree, since Virginia already ranks as having among the nation’s strongest gun laws. But Youngkin’s offer of prayers in the aftermath was deemed insufficient by gun-control advocates.
“You’ll be glad to know the governor of Virginia, a lifetime NRA member, is praying for the University of Virginia,” Shannon Watts of Moms Demand Action tweeted Monday. “His priorities are restricting trans rights, critical race theory and abortion. He’s done nothing to address gun violence.”
Senator Louise Lucas, chairperson of the Education and Health Committee, tweeted that, “The senseless gun violence at UVA last night is horrific and begs the question; how long is it going to take and how many lives will be lost before we pass bipartisan common sense gun control laws?”
How Virginia responded to shootings after Youngkin took office
Since he was elected a year ago, Youngkin has been relatively silent on any plans to change gun laws in Virginia.
Instead, he’s addressed the need for more law enforcement, including in schools, and safety plans when asked specifically about school shootings around the country.
In June, Youngkin was a guest on “CBS Mornings” and was asked if he supported red flag laws and background checks as part of a bipartisan senate gun law proposal. The governor said he hadn’t studied the law in detail at that time.
Youngkin did say his administration had talked with educators and law enforcement officers following school shootings in Buffalo, New York, and Ulvalde, Texas, to discuss strategies to keep school safe.
“We immediately went to work to fund school resource officers,” he said. “And we got it in our budget. We signed a bill that would require schools and law-enforcement to collaborate on school safety plans. These are things that I could do right out of the box, and then finally we’re in a mental health crisis in America we know it… we’re in it in Virginia, and so we just signed budget that includes enhanced funding for mental health support things.”
This past summer the General Assembly passed funding for $22.5 million in both fiscal year 2023 and 2024 for new school resource officers and school security officers. And the Criminal Justice Services said $15 million in grants had been awarded to support resource officers in high, middle and elementary schools across the state.
None of that is for additional safety on college campuses.
Sunday’s shooting left three football players dead, according to the university: D’Sean Perry, Lavel Davis Jr., and Devin Chandler. Jones is a former UVA football player. He was taken into custody just before 11 a.m. Monday. University President Jim Ryan said Jones, 22, is a student at the 22,000-student school.
“We had a horrific tragedy overnight at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville, and there were lives lost,” Youngkin said in an emailed statement. “And families changed forever. And I just ask everybody this morning to lift up those families, the entire community in prayer… And it is an extremely, extremely sad, scary horrific moment.”
The News Leader followed up by asking if there had been any action to increase security on college campuses in Virginia and if Youngkin will consider stricter gun laws in the state, but his office did not respond.
Virginia Del. John Avoli, a Republican from Staunton, told The News Leader on Tuesday that he didn’t believe the General Assembly had worked to increase campus security, saying the focus was on K-12. Avoli said state funding for college security would be tricky since most have private security and their own police departments.
“These campuses today are so huge, so spread out,” Avoli said. “I don’t know how you’d cover everything.”
Strong gun laws, but a challenge to do more
In 2022, The Everytown for Gun Safety Support Fund website ranked Virginia No. 14 in the country for strength of its gun law policies, many which were enacted under the previous governor, DemocratRalph Northam.
“In 2020, Virginia passed a major suite of gun safety laws, including requiring background checks for all sales and relinquishment for domestic abusers subject to restraining orders,” the website wrote. “In 2021, the state enacted legislation to address the Charleston Loophole — extending the period of time to complete a background check before a firearm can be transferred — and to empower localities to pass their own gun safety laws.”
When Youngkin was running for governor, he told the College Republican Federation of Virginia in a Facebook Live interview that he would not sign any legislation that imposed limitations on the Second Amendment and said he’d consider rolling back existing gun-control laws if GOP majorities were elected into the legislature.
Avoli said he was also in favor of the Second Amendment, which says “the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.”
“If this kid wanted to get a gun, stricter laws are not going to prohibit him from getting a gun, that’s the bottom line to it,” Avoli said. “It could have been a knife. Look at the murders committed with knives and everything else under the sun.”
Statista Research Department showed that, in 2021, there were 10,752 homicides committed with handguns and other firearms in the United States, while just 1,035 by knives.
Avoli said it’s something that perhaps we need further dialogue on.
“But I’m not going to come off the Second Amendment,” he said. “I support the Second Amendment and it’s the right to defend yourself.”
Virginia Education Association President James Fedderman and National Education Association President Becky Pringle issues a joint statement Monday, saying that classrooms and campuses should be safe havens and that both are brokenhearted about the lost lives.
“We stand in sorrowful solidarity with the victims of this crime and all those who mourn them,” the statement read. “And we challenge every politician who plans to offer thoughts and prayers instead to provide effective leadership that makes it harder for murderers to obtain and carry the weapons used in these acts of violence. We challenge elected leaders at every level across the country to no longer side with the gun lobby and instead speak up for the students and communities who are caught up in the preventable epidemic of gun violence.”
The White House also issued a statement Monday, saying that President Joe Biden and First Lady Jill Biden were mourning with the University of Virginia community.
“Too many families across America are bearing the awful burden of gun violence,” the statement read. “Earlier this year, President Biden signed the most significant gun safety law in nearly three decades, in addition to taking other historic actions. But we must do more. We need to enact an assault weapons ban to get weapons of war off America’s streets. House Democrats acted, and the Senate should follow.”
— Patrick Hite is The News Leader’s education reporter. Story ideas and tips always welcome. Contact Patrick (he/him/his) at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @Patrick_Hite. Subscribe to us at newsleader.com.