Special session of the Virginia General Assembly

Gun-rights supporters pass the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond on July 9, the opening of a special session called by Gov. Ralph Northam to address gun violence in the wake of the May 31 attack in Virginia Beach that killed a dozen people.

For a good portion of my adult life, I was responsible for confronting armed and dangerous people. My fellow service members and I regularly went into harm’s way to confront some of the most heinous forms of violence imaginable. So believe me when I say that I care about finding solutions that effectively address violence in society.

If we are truly concerned with achieving justice and preventing a violent act such as a mass shooting, we are going to have to work together. That is hard to do when both sides of the debate are screaming at each other and assigning the worst of intentions and motivations to the other side.

I have analyzed this subject for years to determine what responsibilities I have as a legislator and as a citizen to address the issues associated with violence in general and mass shootings specifically. Most of us understand and accept the delicate balance required to maintain a safe and free society. As I consider policies to address this issue, I always do so with the purpose of maintaining essential freedoms while providing basic protections.

I have seen communities terrorized because they had no means to protect themselves. Sometimes, it was because their government was unable to protect them in time. Other times, it was because their government perpetrated violence against them and preferred an unarmed populace.

The government cannot pass a law that will automatically stop criminals from abusing firearms. But governments do prevent law-abiding citizens from having the means to defend themselves on a regular basis and with devastating consequences.

Reliable estimates suggest that U.S. citizens use firearms between 500,000 to 3,000,000 times a year to defend themselves. So I have to consider not only the stated intentions of a gun-control policy, but what it will actually achieve. Despite the often one-sided treatment these bills receive in the press, in most instances, new gun- control policies offer no real assurance of greater safety, but pose the very real possibility of creating new victims out of law-abiding citizens who will no longer be able to defend themselves.

There are ways we can and should keep guns out of the hands of violent people. But every time I see a bill posed as “common-sense gun control” that in reality makes it harder for law-abiding citizens to carry a firearm, or even worse, turns them into a criminal, I don’t see a shooting prevented. I see a new victim created. A victim who never had to be, except that a politician wanted to “do something,” supported by a sympathetic press that will never bother to ask if the policy actually achieved the desired result.

So please understand that when those of us who support second amendment rights question the efficacy of gun-control laws, it is not because we “don’t care” or are “In the pocket of the NRA.” It is because we see the potential victims the press routinely ignores, the hundreds of thousands of Americans each year who never became victims because they had the means of protecting themselves. The battered wife who was finally able to fight back, the shop owner who was able to defend himself, and yes, the citizen who was able to intervene in a bad situation to prevent more victims from being created. It is on their behalf that we speak. Theirs are voices that also deserve to be heard and considered.

There is much we can do to address violence, from stricter penalties for those who harm others and greater communication among law enforcement, to addressing root causes such as the breakdown of the family.

But for a moment, can we stop assigning negative intentions to one another and focus on areas of agreement? Because I firmly believe that any solution which seeks to protect people, must include protecting their right to defend themselves.

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Del. Nick Freitas represents Virginia’s 30th District, which encompasses the counties of Orange and Madison, and part of Culpeper.

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