March 24, 2014
Thank you for contacting me to share your views on proposals to reduce gun violence. I appreciate hearing from you.
No one can deny that gun violence is a serious problem in this country today. We owe it to the victims of the growing number of mass shootings to vigorously debate specific and comprehensive proposals that can keep our communities safer. The right approach focuses on many issues - improvements to the mental health system, better security protocols and common sense rules about gun use, including keeping firearms out of the hands of dangerous individuals.
When I was on the Richmond City Council in the 1990s, our city was mired in an epidemic of gun violence that included the city having the second-highest homicide rate in the United States. The most successful step we took was implementing Project Exile, a program that involved federal prosecution and tougher penalties for gun crimes that were previously treated more leniently in state courts. Celebrated by diverse groups engaged in the gun violence debate - including the National Rifle Association and the Brady Campaign - the program helped drive down Richmond's homicide rate by nearly 60 percent within a few years.
In 2007, the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech revealed glaring weaknesses in campus security protocols at colleges and universities, in our mental health system and the gun background check system for gun purchases. In a bipartisan spirit, I worked with then-Attorney General Bob McDonnell to immediately improve our background check system and issued an executive order ensuring that those adjudicated to be mentally ill and dangerous would be entered into a national database and barred from purchasing weapons. We also changed standards for mental health treatment and increased funding for community health programs while dramatically improving campus security and efforts to assist college students suffering from mental stress.
On the sixth anniversary of the horrible shootings at Virginia Tech, I took to the Senate floor to remember the 32 Hokies who lost their lives. The tragedy happened after a dangerous young man illegally purchased weapons due to flaws in the background records check system. I was pleased to cast my vote on April 17, 2013, in support of S. 649, the Safe Communities, Safe Schools Act legislation, which included tougher laws on gun trafficking and straw purchases, and ways to improve safety in schools. I also voted in support of a bipartisan proposal to expand background checks on gun laws, but unfortunately a filibuster of this measure prevented it from passing. I also voted for a ban on large-capacity magazines, and for a proposal to ban combat-style weapons. I am disappointed a minority of the Senate chose to use the filibuster to block common-sense reforms.
As your U.S. Senator, I will continue to work to bring that kind of comprehensive approach that will strengthen the safety of our communities, while protecting our Second Amendment rights. As a gun owner who worked with others to constitutionally guarantee Virginians the right to hunt, I know that you can be a strong supporter of the Second Amendment without tolerating the gun tragedies that are too often a part of our daily lives.
Thank you once again for contacting me.