By: Guest Author Jedszelle Baul and Contributor Muskan Bansal,
on behalf of Students Demand Action at Virginia Commonwealth University
I was at a concert at the NorVA, a 1,500 person concert venue and theatre, watching a LANY concert as part of their “2019 WORLD TOUR”, seventeen (yes, 17) miles away from the Virginia Beach Municipal Center. Before leaving for the concert, I saw alerts on Twitter. “Shots fired in Building 2.” I didn’t think about it at the time. But later, alone on a crowded floor, my mind went blank as I read:
“Virginia Beach shooting leaves at least 11 dead and six injured.”
Right as the clock turned 8 PM, one stage light turned on as LANY came out before Role Model, the opening act, and mentioned the shooting. Cheers and confusion blanketed us. My anxiety-filled thoughts ached for security. But lead singer Paul Klein said:
“We are so, so thankful that you’re here, safe with us tonight… The boys [Les Priest and Jake Goss] and I are playing for the victims, the families… for your beautiful city that we love a lot.”
Paul’s words saved me. As Charles Dickens wrote, “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.” On a rainy Friday night, the Commonwealth and I were shell-shocked. We were Parkland. Virginia Tech. Sandy Hook. Orlando. Las Vegas. Charleston. Statistics no one wants to be part of.
Yet, Role Model and LANY showed us the light. My family doesn’t know this, but I broke down and cried the entire weekend because all I thought was:
“It could’ve been me. I could’ve died that night.”
I still think about that sometimes.
Though I am originally not from Virginia Beach, it’s located in the 757. It is home. If you’re from here, you understand the connection between each city and its people. When one city is affected, the rest are too.
Before VB, a house party turned into a deadly gunfight in Chesapeake, making national headlines. These events happen daily. It’s ironic; when these shootings are in our backyard, people forget and move on. Shootings have become our new norm.
Since the Parkland shooting, I’ve fought for the people who can’t, even though we may be strangers. From walkouts to protests, we fight for all gun violence victims so they don’t have to feel the same pain, suffering, and fear that any kid or adult who has these similar experiences.
I don’t want this shooting in my hometown – nor May 31st – to be forgotten. #VBStrong became the “forgotten shooting.” But I will not stay silent, nor should anyone else.
Inaction kills us.
Just one month ago, on July 9th, the GOP-led Virginia General Assembly adjourned from the special gun violence prevention session ordered by Governor Ralph Northam (D-VA) in 90 minutes.
Holding slim majorities in the House of Delegates and Senate, Republicans halted floor votes and deemed the session a “political stunt” and a “distraction” created by Northam, following the blackface scandal that received bipartisan backlash, calling for his resignation.
The GOP “did nothing,” instead sending their thoughts and prayers and adjourning until November 18. They may pay the price for their cowardly behavior.
Democrats stood with protesters, including multiple gun safety groups. Governor Northam led the chants, “Enough is Enough,” and “You vote today. We vote in November.” The NAACP led a vigil to remember all gun violence victims.
This November 5, 2019, all 140 seats in the General Assembly are up for reelection. I can only speak for myself, but at the time, I was pissed. I still am. The fight shouldn’t have come down to a game of hyper-partisan politics. Our lives are not pawns for political gain. The special session was made to honor those who have passed by creating laws to protect future generations.
Our government was made to work for the people. Our government was made to protect the people. Our government was made to run by the voices of the people. So when the peoples’ voices are not being heard, it is unacceptable for us to sit on our phones and be complicit to inactive responses from the government we call our own.
Republicans using the scandals as an excuse is ludicrous. Though a Democrat, even I wanted Northam, Fairfax, and Herring to resign. Each violated my moral and ethical beliefs. I won’t defend their actions. Accountability is necessary for both parties at all times
But we cannot hinder the gun violence debate, a problem killing 100 Americans every day, based on scandal. When we wait on passing legislation that allows limitations to guns, we only increase the fear of the people who must worry about being the next targets in the most normal places: airports, theaters, parks, Walmart (as in El Paso on August 3rd), and more. The list will only keep piling up, until something is done. This issue goes beyond mass shootings, and affects everyone. On. A. Daily. Basis.
Virginians want to stop domestic abusers from acquiring firearms. They want to require comprehensive background and mental health checks. They want to regulate bump stocks and silencers and to provide more security to gun-owners. Their hesitation regarding an assault weapons ban is understandable due to their skepticism of progressive change.
However, we have to start somewhere.
Something is better than nothing. Inactivity from Republicans will only damage the GOP’s chances of gaining seats in November.
For Democrats, in-party scandals created divisions. Constituents want to pass progressive policies but are hesitant given little accountability from top leaders. The challenge is more daunting when you are the minority in a bipartisan government, and if the Democrats do not reclaim their accountability, they may remain the minority after Election Day.
To Republicans, especially Speaker Kirk Cox and Majority Leader Tommy Norment: Focus on Virginians. Increasing harsher penalties for shooters and care for the mentally ill will not stop mass shootings and gun violence. This is passive regulation impacting attackers after they’ve committed the crime. We must pass regulation actively hindering shootings from the beginning.
When you don’t pass laws, you dishonor your constituents in Virginia Beach, Blacksburg, and those who died pre- and post-Columbine. Their lives cannot be ignored by your complacency.
WE DESERVE BETTER. We need representatives to see the lives being cut short by firearms, not the money lining their pockets. Mark your calendars for November 5. My thoughts and prayers are at the ballot box. Votes and laws will be ensured, whether you are elected or not.
I am privileged to have never stood in front of a firearm. I shouldn’t have to worry that I will be a victim. May 31st, 2019 changed me like Parkland changed us all. For a place I love and call home, this must end.
#VBStrong means nothing if we don’t fight for our right to live.
Jedszelle Baul is a second-year student at Virginia Commonwealth University. Baul has fought gun violence since senior year after leading protests and walkouts at his high school, Oscar F. Smith, in Chesapeake, Virginia. Baul is also a member of Everytown for Gun Safety’s Students Demand Action Instagram Team, Direct Action Lead for Students Demand Action at VCU, and a Senator in VCU’s Student Government Association.
Muskan Bansal is also a second-year student at Virginia Commonwealth University. Bansal has debated in legislation during high school (through NSDA) with major interest in gun and healthcare bills. Bansal is currently the Finances Lead for Students Demand Action at VCU and a contributor for Next Gen, a platform to educate and speech for cross-partisanship.
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