Virginia Attorney General candidates talk gun violence prevention after school shooting

Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- A shooting at a Virginia school is reigniting conversations around gun violence prevention as early voting is already underway in statewide races.

On Monday, a student at Heritage High School in Newport News shot and injured two classmates, according to police. The injuries are not expected to be life-threatening.

Attorney General Mark Herring, who is up for re-election, hosted the last of several round tables on gun violence prevention in Richmond on Wednesday.

Meanwhile, Del. Jason Miyares–the Republican pick for the state’s top prosecutor–presented a very different vision for handling the crisis in a one-on-one interview.

The focus of Herring’s forum was to discuss how to expand community-based gun violence prevention programs in the hardest hit areas using new funding from the General Assembly.

Some advocates were disappointed in the amount Democratic leaders decided to commit to the cause but called it a step in the right direction.

“Listening to experiences here in Richmond, we see there is a lot of work being done but we can amplify that work,” Herring said. “I see this as just a start and what we need to do is build on that so that everyone feels safe in their home, in their school, at the park and on the streets.”

Herring said another part of the problem is that it’s still too easy to access firearms.

Herring has already defended various gun control policies passed by the General Assembly’s Democratic majority in court, including expanded background checks, a one-handgun-per-month limit and a red flag law. Moving forward, he wants to see his party build on that by revisiting a bill that failed in 2020.

“There is no reason why we should have assault weapons out on the streets in any community. These are weapons of war. That’s what they are designed for,” Herring said.

While serving in the House of Delegates, Miyares voted against all of those gun control reforms. He also opposed laws requiring the reporting of lost or stolen firearms within 48 hours, increasing the penalty for recklessly leaving a loaded firearm in manner that endangers a person under 14, and giving localities the authority to set firearm bans in various places.

Miyares didn’t vote on a bill to prohibit a person subject to a “permanent protective order” with a maximum duration of two years from knowingly possessing a firearm while that order is in effect.

Earlier this year, Miyares proposed an amendment to give the Attorney General’s office more power prosecute illegal gun sales at the state level, especially straw purchases. That’s when someone buys a gun on behalf of another person who is prohibited by law from possessing one. That proposal failed as it was included in a sweeping package of Republican asks largely considered dead on arrival.

Asked about his support for prevention programs, Miyares said he sponsored Project Safe Streets, which is aimed at stopping cycles of gang violence through community outreach. He furthered, “I absolutely support investment in the community but if you think that’s the only way to lower gun violence that is simply naive.”

Miyares criticized Herring’s support for various criminal justice reforms, calling them evidence of a “victim last, criminal first” mentality that is enabling gun violence to continue. He slammed Herring for not cracking down on the Parole Board after the state’s watchdog agency accused them of breaking the law. He added that he would support a constitutional amendment to abolish parole for violent offenders.

“I’ve actually prosecuted gun crimes and I would support the policies that are proven to actually lower gun violence, which is you go after repeat violent offenders and get them off our streets,” Miyares said.

Miyares also accused Herring of “playing politics with people’s safety.” He said Herring declined to accept federal gun violence prevention funds after President Donald Trump tied the money to Immigration and Customs Enforcement requirements.

“That’s completely wrong,” Herring responded. “The President illegally withheld that money from Virginia and other states.”

Furthermore, Miyares said the shooting in Newport News demonstrates the need to have school resource officers in every building as some Democrats call to remove them. Miyares also wants to restore a policy requiring school leaders to report student offenses to law enforcement. It’s not clear where Herring stands on that issue but other members of his party have previously called it a contributor to mass incarceration of black youth.

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