By Leonard E. Colvin
New Journal and Guide
A week after the deadly shooting at the Chesapeake Walmart on November 22, local political leaders are expressing their condolences to thevictims’ families and at the same time considering how legislative and other approaches can be adopted to curb such gun violence.
Authorities identified the people killed as Randy Blevins, 70, Lorenzo Gamble, 43, Tyneka Johnson, 22, Brian Pendleton, 38, Kellie Pyle, 52, and Fernando Chavez-Barron, 16.
The gunman was identified as Andre Bing, who was working as overnight “team lead.” The 31-year-old had been working for Walmart since 2010, the company said. Authorities have said he had one semi-automatic handgun and several ammunition magazines.
The Chesapeake Wal Mart incident was the third mass shooting in Virginia in November, according to the Gun Violence Archive. On November 18, three UVA football students were shot to death on a bus they had been riding on from a field trip in Washington, D.C. In Richmond on November 13, four people were killed.
On November 19, a 22-year-old suspect shot and killed five people at an LGBTQ nightclub in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and injured 19 others, authorities said.
While the leaders in Virginia were releasing condolences and calls for prayers, the political reality of how such violence can be curved via legislation has been resonating, specifically among Democrats.
The day after the shooting U.S. 3rd District Congressperson Robert Scott, according to staff, was fielding phone calls seeking updates on the shooting investigation and reaching out to civic leaders around the region
Come January 3, the Republicans will take over the U.S. House. Scott says that any effort to pass gun control laws will not be welcomed by the GOP.
He noted there have been some 600-mass shootings in the United States in the U.S.in 2022.
“In addition to that you have shootings that are not mass shootings,” he said during an interview on MSNBC. “We have a serious problem. The gun violence and shootings in America are not a result of any kind of super mental health problem in the United States.
we don’t have any more mental health problems in the United States than anywhere else.”
Conversations on the right lean to “mental illness,” and the repeated mentioning of “violent crime” leads them to blank-faced reflections without policy discussion, say those on the left. Many conservatives avoid or reject the topic because of pressure from the NRA.
The Sunday night after the shooting, a large number of Virginia political leaders addressed nearly 1,000 people at The Mount, an African American church in Chesapeake.
Many were State House and Senate members, all of whom will have to stand for election next November.
State Senator Lionell Spruill, who represents District 5, which includes parts of Chesapeake, said he and other Democratic party lawmakers held a caucus meeting to discuss the possibility of passing legislation to address the issue shortly after that event at The Mount.
Democrats have a 21-18 majority in the State Senate and a minority in the State House of Delegates which is not warm to any form of gun control legislation.
“Just because we have 21 Democrats in the Senate does not mean we have 21 votes for any kind of gun control legislation,” said Spruill, who is seeking reelection in the newly redistricted Senate District 18. “There are at least three Democrats who will not support any control bills – period. So, we agreed not to propose any such bills next session. It makes no sense putting forth bills to make people feel good if we cannot get those Senators to support us.”
The 2023 legislative session begins on January 11. Spruill said he has talked to Republican Governor Glenn Youngkin about a funding bill to bolster mental health intervention and care.
The assailant in the Walmart shooting, it has been speculated, may have had some mental health issues. The gun he used, according to investigators was bought on the morning of the shooting legally. It was not an assault rifle which has been the target of such laws’ restrictions.
The Wal-Mart at 1571 Sam’s Way in Chesapeake, sits in the heart of House District 77, represented by State Delegate Cliff Hayes.
Although Senate Democrats may be reticent about proposing gun control legislation, Hayes is optimistic that such efforts will see traction in the House.
Using a sporting analogy, Hayes said that “you do not punt after the first down in football and if you do not swing and get a hit you won’t get to first base.”
“Don’t tell me what we can’t do. That Walmart was in my district, the victims, the shooter and many of the people who were traumatized are in my district and so are many of my friends and family,” said Hayes.
“Something tells me that once the people who are impacted by this tragedy begin to put pressure on the politicians, I think people with common sense will do the right thing.”
Hayes said a number of gun control bills were proposed in the House in 2020 when the Democrats controlled that body “but what was proposed was not passed. They were all watered down.”
Hayes said that the pressure may be building on state lawmakers to pass legislation that will address mental health aspects of gun violence, intervention, and preventative measures.
Chesapeake Councilwoman Dr. Ella Ward said the council voted on November 28 to provide support for the families of victims. She and her colleague Don Carey attended the event at The Mount, where he read a declaration noting the support.
While the Council has no power to impose restrictions on the purchase or possession of weapons, Ward said she will be lobbying state lawmakers to work on such legislation.
Ward said some states have a 10-day waiting period before the purchase of a weapon is final, and red flag laws help to note if a threat or abnormal behavior exists.
“This may have provided a cooling off period, in the Wal-Mart case,” she said. “But there are no such laws in Virginia and it is very easy to get a weapon in this state.”
“I don’t know what any city or state entity could have done in this cas;, there were no warnings…no red flags that police knew about,” said Councilman Don Carey. “But I think at this point we should support the families. We must also look at a multi-pronged approach to dealing with this kind of violence.”
State Senator L. Louise Lucas of Portsmouth, who also represents a part of Chesapeake, was interviewed by Don Lemon and the “CNN This Morning” team the day after the shooting to decry her state legislature’s ongoing inaction when it comes to gun safety and reform.
“I’m just sick and tired of legislators talking about how their hearts and their thoughts and prayers go out to these families when they’re doing nothing to prevent this gun violence in the first place,” Lucas said who is President pro tempore of the Virginia Senate and the highest-ranking Democratic lawmaker in the state.
“That’s where the metal meets the road,” she said. “(S)o until the legislature is prepared to do something about that, I don’t want to hear any more about thoughts and prayers!”