Gun violence in Virginia Beach and Chicago. Ask yourself: Have I done all I can to help?

Renee Gathers, right, prays with others during a service in a parking lot of a shopping center the day after a mass shooting left 12 victims and the gunman dead in Virginia Beach, Va.

We’re all a bullet away from giving a damn about gun violence.

The mass shooting in Virginia Beach last week, with 12 murdered by a co-worker in a city building, shows again that it can happen anywhere: an office; an elementary school; a nightclub; a church.


In Chicago this weekend, at least 52 people were shot, eight fatally, making it the city’s most violent weekend of the year.

Twelve killed in a matter of minutes in Virginia Beach. Eight killed over a weekend here.


By the middle of this week, most will forget those two bursts of violence. Except for the family and friends of the dead and the people who took bullets and survived. They’ll remember. Always.

That imbalance reflects a society out of whack. It shouldn’t take getting shot or knowing someone killed or injured to care about routine massacres.

So there’s a question all of us, regardless of which solutions we believe in, regardless of politics, regardless of our ability to effect change, must ask: Have I done all I can to reduce gun violence?

That question leads to other questions, depending on the individual.

If you’re a lawmaker, have you worked to find solutions?

If you’re a citizen, have you demanded your lawmakers work toward solutions? Have you held them accountable? Have you donated to or volunteered for groups you believe are advocating a sensible path forward? Have you marched? Have you let your voice be heard?

If you have a public platform, have you used that to raise awareness? Have you sounded the alarm? Have you tried to force people to treat this like the national emergency it is?

Those are the questions we need to be asking ourselves. In a country where anywhere, at any time, a bullet can propel us from outside this issue straight into the painful middle of it, we don’t want to answer those questions with: “No. I haven’t.”


I hesitated to write this column. I’ve weighed in on gun violence many times. Maybe it’s not worth it, I thought.

But it is. It’s worth it because backing down treats massacres in office buildings or on city streets as passing headlines, placeholders until the next tragedy arrives.

Being quiet means acquiescing to a broken society. And if I can encourage anything, it’s that we not allow that to happen any more than it already has.

We should be loud, all of us, because the question that directly follows “Have I done all I can to reduce gun violence?” is, of course: “What if I had done more?”

And that’s the toughest one to face.

In Virginia in January, a state bill to ban the sale of large-capacity gun magazines was voted down in committee. The shooter in Virginia Beach last week used such extended magazines.


There’s no telling whether the magazine ban would’ve made a difference in the end. But what if it had? What are those lawmakers who voted against that bill asking themselves today?

The Virginia House also failed to pass a bill earlier this year that would have let cities ban firearms from government buildings. Could that have made a difference in the government building where a dozen Virginians were gunned down? We can’t know the answer to that. But if there was even the slightest chance such a law might help, why block it?

If you don’t agree with gun control laws — and certainly tougher laws alone won’t solve this problem — then push for the solutions you think make sense.

Opponents of gun control often focus on the need for better mental health care. Great. Whether you’re a citizen or a politician, hammer away at that issue. Let your answer to the “Have I done all I can to reduce gun violence?” question be, “Yes, I have advocated ferociously for better mental health care in this country.”

Gun control advocates may say that’s not good enough, but at least you’ve pushed for what you believe is right.

Because there’s no single answer to an issue this complex.


Demand that your state representatives focus on tougher sentencing laws for repeat gun offenders. If you think the problem is violent video games or other elements of our culture, then take that stand.

We’re fools to not consider all contributing factors, and foolish not to value anyone willing to fight to make even a sliver of a difference.

Because there will come a day when this country fixes itself and a headline about eight murdered on the streets of Chicago or a dozen gunned down in a Virginia government building will be a shocking aberration.

And those of us who lived through this perversely, embarrassingly and unnecessarily violent time in our nation’s history will have to answer one defining question: When innocent children and adults were being shot and killed in bunches with rhythmic frequency, did I do all I could to help?