Virginia House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) has introduced legislation that targets the most violent offenders in the state’s most violent gangs, and that’s great news for the communities most affected by gang violence. The bill is relatively simple, especially considering the impact it could have. It would bring two different programs to the state of Virginia, both of which seek to address gang violence at the individual level.

Project Ceasefire incorporates federal, state, and local law enforcement to provide targeted enforcement against the most violent gangs in the community. Project Exit, meanwhile, utilizes existing social services programs to help individuals with an “exit ramp” out of a gang and into a more productive realm of society. Gilbert’s legislation would authorize grants to communities to bring the projects to their cities, as well as create a division in the state’s Department of Criminal Justice Services to administer the grant programs. Additionally, according to Gilbert:

The legislation also creates the Group Violence Intervention Board to oversee the grants, and a Division of Group Violence Intervention under the Department of Criminal Justice Services to administer the grants, serve as a clearinghouse for best practices, and build relationships among the prosecutors, police, and local groups who will make these programs a success.

Virginia Democrats, meanwhile, seem much more interested in emotionally-driven arguments in favor of gun control, hoping to turn out voters in reliably blue areas of the Commonwealth in this November’s elections. In the wake of the Virginia Beach murders on May 31st, Governor Ralph Northam called a special session to push for gun bans, one-gun-a-month laws, “universal background checks” and more, all directed at legal gun owners in Virginia (and none of which would have prevented the Virginia Beach attack). Republicans adjourned the special session without taking up any of the anti-2A bills, and Democrats pilloried them for it. Now the GOP House Majority leader has introduced substantive legislation aimed squarely at those most likely to be the perpetrators and victims of violent crime.

We Will Help You If We Can, But We Will Stop You If We Must

The two-pronged approach of Project Ceasefire and Project Exit, Gilbert says, has demonstrated proven results when effectively implemented. In Boston, for example, juvenile homicides dropped by almost 66%, while calls to police regarding “shots fired” dropped by 32%. Beyond the numbers, what this means is that neighborhoods become safe again. Kids can play on the sidewalks again. Backyard cookouts start up again. The new normal is actually normal. Violence is disrupted. Lives are changed for the better.

The key to the program’s success is deceptively simple; authorities have to mean what they say. When they bring gang members in (typically through probation or parole officers) and tell them “You’re going to stop shooting, one way or the other. If you keep shooting, we’re going to nail you and every one of your associates with enough federal charges to lock you away until you’re old men,” it must be a promise, not an idle threat.

And when authorities say “But if you stop shooting on your own, we’ll help you; help you get your GED or diploma, with job training or assistance in applying for college, help with the tools and skills you need to survive and thrive in society”, it can’t be an empty promise. The help has to be there too.

As Todd Gilbert puts it, “The message to those mired in a cycle of violence is simple: We will help you if we can, but we will stop you if we must.”

If this all sounds familiar, I wrote about programs like this just a few days ago. Harvard researcher Thomas Abt wrote in the Boston Globe that it was a waste of time trying to talk to Republicans about ideas like this. I begged to differ, and noted that there was plenty for a conservative gun owner like me to support:

  • Targeting the actual perpetrators of violent crime, not law-abiding gun owners.
  • Offering gang members a way out besides a prison cell or a coffin.
  • Cost effectiveness. These programs can be put in place without large outlays of money (grants will be provided in Virginia through surplus funds).
  • Overall effectiveness. These programs substantially reduce violence, and could be transformative for cities like Richmond, Virginia Beach, and Roanoke

Some on the Right may be bothered that this strategy utilizes carrots as well as sticks. I’m not. I’m married to a woman who was a single mom in Camden, New Jersey back when it was the murder capitol of the United States. She’s a great mom, and did an amazing job raising two children amidst the violence. If these programs had been in place, they could have had a huge impact on her neighborhood and the children growing up there. I’m willing to see some of my tax dollars go towards rehabilitation, especially if lengthy incarceration awaits those who continue to go down the wrong road.

I’m genuinely excited about this legislation. Again, it will do far more to improve public safety than all of the Democrats’ gun control bills combined, and the programs it funds could be swiftly and fairly easily up and running not long after the bill’s passage. I hope every member of the Virginia legislature gets on board, and I hope folks like Thomas Abt won’t be so quick to assume Republicans can’t support programs like Project Ceasefire and Project Exit. In Virginia, they’re not only supportive, but they’re the ones making the proposal.