The passage of HB 2231 should have been a no-brainer, bipartisan decision for Virginia lawmakers this session, but Democrats in the state’s House of Delegates once again put politics above public safety and have killed the measure in a legislative subcommittee.
The bill, authored by House Minority Leader Todd Gilbert, would have established a Group Violence Intervention Board and a Division of Group Violence to oversee distribute federal and state grants to cities that want to adopt the anti-violence strategies of Project Ceasefire and Project Exit.
These programs have been proven to be highly effective at reducing shootings and homicides by targeting the most prolific offenders with a simple message: You’re going to stop shooting. We’ll help you if you let us, but we’ll make you if you don’t.
The help comes in the form of community interventions, job training, mentorships, G.E.D. and online classes, and other steps that ease the transition out of gang activity. If that help is rejected, however, these same individuals find their cases being moved to federal court. They’re prosecuted without the offer of a plea bargain, and they face decades behind bars the next time they pull a trigger. In fact, since the goal is to get these individuals to stop shooting, they face immediate scrutiny from local, state, and federal law enforcement.
At the same time, because the focus is on those most likely to offend, the number of arrests in a given community typically drops by as much as 50%. Targeted deterrence is simply more effective and less intrusive policing, but it is still policing.
That was problematic for some Virginia Democrats like Del. Sam Rasoul, who reluctantly voted to move the bill along in an earlier subcommittee hearing, but seemed opposed to the fact that these anti-gang programs had any room for law enforcement at all. Democrats in the Commonwealth aren’t actively calling to defund the police at the moment, given that this is an election year in the state, but there’s a clear hostility towards law enforcement among many in the Party.
Project Ceasefire has had the support of many Democrats around the country (most of cities that have implemented the program are Democrat-run) and a proven track record of success over more than two decades, but the fact that this year’s bill was offered by a Republican, and the fact that there was a role for law enforcement to play in reducing shootings and homicide was a deal-breaker for Virginia Democrats.
As a result, a good bill that would have been far more effective at reducing violent crime than any of the gun control legislation backed by Democrats in the state legislature died without even making it to the floor of the House for a vote.
I do have two questions for Del. Rasoul and other Democrats who seem to be bothered by the thought of law enforcement actually enforcing laws; why then are you continuing to push for new laws that will be enforced by police? Do you really believe that law enforcement should be spending its time making arrests for non-violent possessory offenses that you’ve created out of thin air, rather than focusing their efforts on stopping the most prolific and violent offenders from terrorizing the neighborhoods where they live?
Virginia Democrats had the opportunity to advance a bipartisan and effective approach to reducing violent crime in cities like Richmond, Petersburg, and Roanoke. They chose to play politics instead; making it clear that legal gun owners, not the most prolific violent criminals, are the top target of their legislative firepower.
If the state GOP wasn’t in the process of fighting an intra-party civil war, they could use this issue an an entry into the deep blue urban districts where Republicans aren’t usually on the ballot. Would it be enough to convince voters to switch parties? Probably not, but it would certainly help make inroads in parts of the state where the GOP needs to gain ground in order to win statewide races.
More importantly, at least as far as I’m concerned, is the fact that the voters in these Democrat-dominated cities should know that delegates rejected a measure that would have greatly improved their lives for the most partisan and political of reasons, and Democrats certainly aren’t going to inform these voters about what they did. It’s up to the GOP to do that, as well as to offer an alternative to the status quo of the Democrat machine that puts politics above the personal safety of the voters it takes for granted. These voters deserve better, but it’s up to GOP to ensure that they actually have a choice.
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