Dear Friends and Colleagues:
As the Democratic Leader, and member of the minority party, in the Virginia House of Delegates, I know how you feel. While our Commonwealth has elected Democrats in all five of the statewide elected posts, Republican control of the redistricting process has given them a super majority in our House of Delegates. In Virginia, we have experienced how the Rules operate to prevent even the most popular public initiatives from getting to the floor. Virginia House Democrats have proposed a variety of common sense gun safety initiatives in the last 10 years, only to see them die in small subcommittees of five persons or less, often without any recorded vote. We have railed against Republican-sponsored initiatives that repealed Virginia’s “one-handgun-a-month” law and allowed guns in bars. We have fought initiatives that would allow guns in airports and guns in schools. And all of this has taken place in the context of our major gun tragedy at Virginia Tech, which, until Orlando, was the largest mass shooting of its type in American history, and the public execution of television reporter, Allison Parker, and her colleague, Adam Ward, on live television in August 2015.
Like you, we have participated in our “moments of silence” and expressed our sympathies for the victims of gun violence. Like you, we have prayed for the victims and their families. And like you, increasing numbers of us are now saying, “Our thoughts and prayers are no longer enough.” Like the American public, we are asking, “What will it take, and when will we act?”
With your courageous action, you have brought attention to this issue in a way that few of us would have thought possible. Like you, we are mindful of the rules, procedures, and history of our legislative bodies. Virginia is proud of asserting its claim to be the longest consecutively operated Democratic legislative body in the Western Hemisphere and we, therefore, respect institutional procedures. It is for that reason that we understand, more than most, the significance of your actions and why you have departed from established procedures.
Your efforts bring to mind the sentiments expressed by Dr. Martin Luther King’s famous “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” You undoubtedly recall that King addressed his letter to his fellow clergymen who had expressed concern about the tactics of the civil rights movement in confronting racism. In Dr. King’s letter, which includes the often quoted phrase “injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere,” he challenges his colleagues and our citizens to embrace the “tension in society” created by protest “so that individuals could rise from the bondage of myth and half truths to the unfettered realm of creative analysis and objective appraisal (in order that we might) rise…to the majestic heights of understanding and brotherhood.”
This is what you are seeking to do – create a tension and insist that the voices of the majority are heard. And those voices speak loudly and clearly for common sense gun safety measures.
In the days and weeks to come, you will continue to hear the drumbeat of those who would seek to do nothing. They will wrap themselves in the blanket of the 2nd Amendment, failing to recognize that the rights set forth therein, as are the rights of the other amendments, are not unfettered; our right to free speech does not allow us to cry “fire” in a crowded theater and most realize that prohibitions against individuals owning bazookas and surface-to-air missiles are reasonable restrictions to the right to bear arms. You will be criticized for violating rules over which you have no control. You will be accused of participating in a “political stunt.” But with all of this criticism, I hope that you will continue to stand strongly and firmly for our great American tradition of political protest and our assertion that the will of the majority ought to be recognized and realized in promoting common sense gun safety measures in this country.
I speak for many Virginians in saying we are ready to help and to make the change necessary to help our country become a safer place.