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Connolly Hosts Community Discussion on Gun Violence Prevention

On Friday, June 9, Congressman Gerry Connolly (D-VA) hosted a community conversation at the Fairfax County Government Center to discuss gun violence prevention. He was joined by Chairman Jeff McKay of the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors and State Senator Jennifer Boysko to discuss the federal, state, and local initiatives being taken to reduce the frequency and severity of gun violence in Virginia. Panelists also included Martina Leinz of the Brady Campaign, Pastor Vernon Walton from the First Baptist Church of Vienna, Moms Demand Action advocates Mary Wright Baylor and Heather Foglio, and Fairfax NAACP President Michelle Leete.


The panel began with a direct charge for elected officials and activists alike to stay in the fight. Connolly asked, “Does anyone really want to argue that [Republicans’] theory that more guns will make us safe is accurate? The exact opposite is true, and they know it.”


Nodding to the gravity of the problem and its widespread effects, Michelle Leete acknowledged, “Unfortunately, while we are holding this panel today, someone or someones will be killed due to gun violence.”


Multiple panelists noted that gun violence is the current leading cause of death for children and teenagers, and Connolly called for immediate commonsense reform, pointing out, “Many of the measures we’re talking about are not ‘radical lefty’ ideas. We had universal background checks… Guess who used to advocate for universal background checks. The NRA!”


Martina Leinz added that gun lobby propaganda had distorted public perception of the threat of gun violence. She stated, “When the previous [assault weapons] ban was in effect, there was a 70 percent decrease in crime [involving an assault weapon]. Since the ban was allowed to expire by a Republican-controlled Congress in 2004, guess how much deaths have increased by assault weapons. Three hundred and forty-seven percent!”


Chairman McKay highlighted some of the work that has been accomplished at the local level, including Fairfax County’s ban on firearms in county buildings and in public parks. He addressed a lawsuit filed by the National Rifle Association, stating, “I’m quite proud to be sued. If [the NRA] wants to sue me for trying to protect the lives of people in Fairfax County, then bring it on. We will fight that any day.”


State Senator Boysko added, “We have a seat of power, and if we’re not willing to risk our political careers for that, then what good is having that office?”


Local advocates applauded the progress that has been made at the local, state, and federal level, but took time to acknowledge the effects of gun violence at home. Martina Leinz stated, “We are so fortunate that we have such tremendous leadership at the local, state, and federal level,” but added, “As of 6 AM this morning, 180 days into the year, we have already experience 240 mass shootings. Unacceptable.”


“Unfortunately, we’ve spent just as much time preparing sermons as we have in meetings about the safety of our congregations,” said Pastor Walton. He asked how many lives had to be lost before stating, “At the time the Second Amendment was written, guns fired one round per minute. Now, they fire over one hundred. Our guns have evolved. So should our gun laws.”


Mary Wright Baylor praised the growth of the anti-gun violence movement, stating, “Initially, the Facebook page that started Moms Demand Action was all white women. Now, we are just as enriched with men, people of color, gun owners who are fed up and want to be part of the solution. Just as moving to us are the students who just have… had it,” and Heather Foglio charged these groups to “Look our legislators in the eye when they’re preventing good bills from being passed.”


This roundtable discussion comes during June, Gun Violence Awareness Month, in a year of record-high incidents of gun violence, and after a Fox News poll showed overwhelming majorities of Americans support commonsense gun reforms. Congressman Connolly decried the “cycle of violence propounded by gun advocates and the NRA,” and promised to continue the fight for a gun violence-free future. 

Video of the event is available here.
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