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Virginia needs all hands on deck to end gun violence

Opinion by Deirdre Love and Sibel Galindez Oct. 2, 2020 at 9:00 a.m. EDT

Deirdre Love is the founder of Teens With a Purpose. Sibel Galindez is the local group leader for the Hampton Roads Moms Demand Action group.

It’s just after 1 p.m. on a September afternoon in Norfolk. Gunshots ring out in the Young Terrace neighborhood, a sound sadly familiar to many of us in the community. Police are called to the scene, and by that evening, a 17-year-old boy has died from his wounds and another family has been shattered. He joins a growing list of lives stolen by bullets in the commonwealth in 2020, including the shootings of two toddlers in Richmond and Norfolk. Their deaths serve as a brutal reminder that we still have a long way to go to fight gun violence.

The new gun-safety laws that went into effect this summer are a great start, but ending gun violence requires more than just legislation. We need change that starts in the community. We deserve safe spaces in all of our communities, safe spaces where children can play and neighbors can gather without worrying about being shot. In addition to enacting new gun laws, we need to support local efforts to interrupt the cycle of gun violence in Virginia.ADADVERTISING

Let’s look at the facts. Firearms are the leading cause of death of children in Virginia, and Black children and teens are three times as likely to die by guns as their White peers. Here in the Hampton Roads area, we’re all too familiar with the deadly consequences of gun violence. A quarter of all Virginia gun homicides occur in just three cities: Richmond, Newport News and Norfolk.

The tragic mass shooting at Virginia Beach’s municipal center made national headlines, but our communities experience shootings nearly daily that fail to make headlines. The entire Hampton Roads community should express outrage when we lose a community member to gun violence — and then turn that outrage into action. Only with a combination of common-sense gun laws and a commitment from community members and local stakeholders can we start to slow the heartbreaking shootings we’ve experienced for decades.

If we want to keep our communities safe, local gun-violence-prevention organizations deserve just as much support as common-sense gun-safety measures moving in the statehouse.AD

Sadly though, these programs are often the first to face cuts when budgets are tight. We once had several community centers open that supported young people, giving them a safe space to go after school and stay out of trouble. But since the start of the pandemic and as of today, Teens With a Purpose is one of a small number of community centers with robust, necessary programming for our most vulnerable community members in Norfolk. We open our doors each and every day to give young people a place for tutoring, breakfast and lunch, small-group indoor/outdoor safe-distancing classrooms, and employment opportunities for youths to become peer leaders. The arts create the backdrop for self-expression and healing. But, most important, Teens With a Purpose creates a safe, love-centered place where adults show up for youths regardless of what life delivers to our door steps. We are here for them.

Teens With a Purpose has always been committed to embracing all children as our children. Together with Moms Demand Action, we express our outrage for the deadly and tragic harm that came to that young man in Norfolk and too many others. We embrace each other as mothers — standing beside and behind each other to demand an end to the daily gun violence in our community. Moms Demand Action Hampton Roads will continue to lock arms with Teens With a Purpose and provide youths with school supplies and the essentials for success. By ensuring every child is fed, safe and valued, we are fighting income inequality and systemic racism — both driving factors of gun violence.

The good news is there are many ways to get involved: Showing up at the statehouse to support evidence-based legislation to reduce gun violence. Calling lawmakers to advocate for common-sense policies and fund gun-violence-interruption programs. Donating to your local organizations and programs that help keep our community safe. Reaching out and showing up when partners need it most. And, of course, making sure your community votes for candidates who want to end gun violence.AD

The landmark gun-safety laws we passed are a huge victory for the commonwealth, but that’s only the first step. No matter how you do it, be proactive. We need all hands on deck. Together we can give children their childhood.

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