First congressional district challenger discusses gun safety at town hall

First District congressional candidate Herb Jones and Moms Demand Action speaker Courtney Champion. (Kate Kimmel for Henrico Citizen)

Mass shootings, suicide and domestic violence were some of the topics addressed by First District Democratic congressional candidate Herb Jones during a town hall on gun safety on June 29.

“As a society, we have to make a decision about what we want to do about weapons of war on the streets of America,” Jones told an audience of about 385 people. on line and 50 in-person attendees gathered in the auditorium at Douglas Freeman High Schools.

To Jones’ left sat special guest speaker Courtney Champion from Moms demand action and a Freeman High School alum who hosted the event.

Although organizers said the event was to be debate-style, Jones’ opponent, Republican incumbent First District Rep. Rob Witmman, did not participate. A member of Wittman’s communications team in Washington, DC, who answered a phone call to the “press inquiries” number listed on his website, told the Citizen he could not speak to the media. Calls to Wittman’s three regional offices seeking his thoughts on topics discussed at the event went to voicemail and were not returned.

In 2021, 136 firearm injuries were reported to emergency departments in Henrico County, an increase of 15% from the 118 cases the previous year, the The Virginia Department of Health reported. A total of 59 firearm injuries have resulted in emergency room visits this year in the county.

Henrico accounted for 4.8% of Virginia’s 2,816 firearm injuries that resulted in emergency room visits last year, the data shows. Gunshot injuries have seen a sharp increase at the county and state level since 2018.

Jones answered questions from the audience and engaged in onstage dialogue with Champion about gun politics.

“I don’t want to take guns from anybody, I have guns,” Jones said.

If elected, Jones would advocate for universal background checks, effective red flag laws and secure storage laws, he said. He is also in favor of a requirement for liability insurance on firearms.

“Guns should be regulated like cars,” he said, adding that licensing, proficiency testing and insurance should be required for acquiring and owning guns. fire.

Wittman voted against HR 1446the Enhanced Background Checks Act 2021, which would have extended the period that gun sellers can refuse a sale until they get the results of the national instant criminal background check system.

“To address gun violence, we must consider improvements to our mental health system, and we must more effectively enforce current laws, not take away the rights of Americans,” Wittman said in a statement. statement of his decision to vote against the bill. “We already have such a strong background system in place: NICS and current federal laws are already strong when it comes to background checks and transfer guidelines.”

“We need to focus on stopping criminals from acquiring guns in the first place and addressing the behavior behind these instances of mass violence instead of infringing on our constitutional rights.”

Jones argued for the protection of constitutional rights, but disagreed that current laws are strong enough to prevent gun violence.

Champion supported many of Jones’ policy positions, particularly focusing on the importance of secure storage laws. As a parent in Henrico, she said she saw gun violence affect the community.

“I’ve been, I don’t even know how many events at Henrico high schools after students were shot, like vigils,” she said. “Every time I’m there, I’m shocked at how many children are there, and I think about how their lives will never be the same. That’s what gun violence does. It ripples through communities…there are countless lives affected by gun violence.

“One person dies but a whole community is forever changed,” she said.

Wittman voted against HR 7910commonly referred to as the “Protecting Our Children Act”, which would raise the age for purchasing assault rifles to 21, ban untraceable “ghost” weapons, require the safe storage of firearms, and limit the ability of ammunition magazines.

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Throughout the town hall, Jones shared several personal anecdotes of how gun violence has affected his life and the lives of others close to him.

When the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting happened, Jones was serving in Afghanistan. His wife was a high school principal.

“I remember talking to my wife [after it happened] and while I was talking to him on the phone, I realized that in four years of life in combat, I had never had a gun or a weapon pointed at my head,” he said. stopping for a moment. “And I realized that I was safer in a combat zone in Afghanistan than my wife was as a high school principal. And something is absolutely wrong with that.

Wittman voted against bipartisanship Active Shooter Alert Act of 2022, which would require a designated DOJ agent to act as the national coordinator of an active shooter warning communications network. The coordinator would encourage federal, state, local and tribal government agencies to establish procedures for responding to active shooters. The bill passed the House on July 13 on a 260-169 vote with 43 Republicans in favor.

Members of the public, online and in person, have been asking questions throughout the town hall. A woman asked Jones what he thought of the federal gun laws promulgated on June 25.

Jones acknowledged the benefits of the bill, specifically referring to the progress made to protect victims of domestic violence. The legislation as a whole, however, was not even close to where it needed to be, he said.

“So let’s talk about the last [month] . . On Thursday the Supreme Court said states cannot regulate concealed weapons and handguns, then on Friday the Supreme Court said states can regulate women’s bodies,” he said. “So the legislation isn’t even close to where it needs to be, and how to do it? You elect people who have the courage to do the right thing in gun control.

Champion also responded with his thoughts on federal legislation, calling it a victory in his book. When the last federal gun legislation was passed, she was in grade 5, she said. Now, 26 years later, her daughter is almost in 5th grade.

Regarding his political views on guns already in circulation, Jones again advocated for effective red flag laws. It would also be open to setting up a buyback program, he said.

Both Jones and Champion have expressed a desire to normalize conversations about gun ownership. Throughout the town hall, the two stressed the importance of not only passing gun safety laws, but also promoting responsibility and accountability at the individual level.

According to his website, Wittman is a firm believer in preserving and protecting his constituents’ right to privacy and to bear arms.

“I am committed to upholding the rights of all law-abiding people to purchase, possess and use firearms for lawful purposes,” says a statement from Wittman on his website.


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