I was angry when I sat down to record today’s Bearing Arms’ Cam & Co. Angry at the cowardly killer in Chesapeake, Virginia who murdered six people and injured four others before taking his own life, primarly, but I’m also irate over the response from Democratic politicians from Joe Biden on down who have called for some vague and undefined gun control legislation that they promise could have prevented this attack.
Virginia State Sen. Louise Lucas, who’s one of the top Democrats in the state legislature, took to MSNBC on Wednesday morning to blast state lawmakers for their supposed inaction on gun control; telling the hosts that “we’re going to have these kinds of mass shootings” until lawmakers “get serious” about putting more gun control laws on the books.
Lucas specifically called out Republican lawmakers in Virginia for adjourning a special session in 2019 rather than debate a number of gun control bills after a shooting at the Virginia Beach Municipal Complex, but she neglected to mention what happened just a few months afterward: Virginia Democrats took complete control of state government with majorities in both chambers of the legislature as well as the governor’s office.
From January of 2020 until January of this year Lucas and her fellow Democrats were in charge of Virginia, and they even approved a half-dozen gun control measures during that time period; none of which, obviously prevented this shooting. If preventing these attacks is just a simple matter of slapping a new law on the books, as Lucas maintains, then why didn’t she and her colleagues put that magic law in place when they had the votes to do so?
Lucas went on to call out legislators for “offering thoughts and prayers” while “failing to make a difference,” but she could offer no specific policy that or new law that would have stopped this attack before it could begin. As you might imagine, the MSNBC hosts, including Al Sharpton, never bothered to press Lucas on what, exactly, she believes would have prevented the shooting, and they too ignored the fact that Virginia Democrats had two years to address violent crime and mass shootings through gun control but failed to enact any legislation that’s had a meaningful impact.
One of the reasons for my anger today is that, as a Virginian, I’ve seen Lucas and other legislators try to ban their way to safety and use gun control as a way to claim they’re “doing something” to address violent crime while ignoring the crisis of their own creation in the criminal justice and mental health systems in the state. Things are so out-of-whack in the Commonwealth that even the Democratic mayor of Roanoke has spoken out publicly about the damage done by criminal justice “reforms” approved by Lucas and other Democrats that were signed into law by then-Gov. Ralph Northam. While Democrats were getting soft on crime, they also did nothing to address the state’s crumbling mental health system, which is so short on beds that individuals in crisis are routinely spending days waiting in ERs or stuck in a jail cell waiting for an inpatient bed to open up.
At any given time, virtually every one of the state’s 10 mental hospitals are nearing or exceeding patient capacity. Alison Land, commissioner of the state’s Department of Behavioral Health and Developmental Services, described current census levels as “dangerously high” in an April meeting, telling the agency’s board that the number of patients — combined with staffing shortfalls — made working at the facilities “tremendously unsafe.”
“There is simply no way for the state hospitals to continue along this trajectory,” she told lawmakers later that month.
Amid the growing crisis, Virginia has also vocally opposed adding new psychiatric beds. When Central State Hospital is replaced in 2024, it will reopen with 25 fewer beds than it had originally. Lawmakers denied a 2019 request to add 56 new beds at Catawba State Hospital in Roanoke County. Within the last five years, only one facility — Western State — has expanded its capacity, according to DBHDS. But those beds aren’t currently open, and won’t be until the department can find workers to staff them, Land said.
The idea, supposedly, is that the reduction in acute mental health care would be subsidized by greater access to preventative care across the state. Unfortunately, that hasn’t really happened either. Instead, providers have been saddled with new bureaucratic requirements, including getting insurance pre-authorization for treatment, that they say is causing a host of additional problems.
“This will likely put providers in a scenario where they are unable to start crisis services for a client in immediate need due to a delay in receiving authorization,” one anonymous comment read. Others pointed out that there also seemed to be no requirement for managed care organizations to approve legitimate requests for community stabilization, writing that the new policy seemed designed to make the service unusable.
“It really seems as though DMAS simply does not want us to utilize community stabilization at all with these recent changes,” wrote another provider. “If that is the case please just remove/replace the service entirely instead of slowly causing the service to deteriorate due to administrative burdens.”
The agency did not respond to a question on whether it planned to establish a timeline for insurance companies to respond to requests. But if the process results in long delays or denials, Carlin predicts that some providers will simply stop offering the service.
“We’ve seen this already with therapeutic day treatment — we have large agencies that no longer provide it because the services aren’t authorized and they can’t afford it,” she said. “So, if this is a situation where our concerns are realized to a large degree, I think it will be a deterrent.”
But hey, at least Virginia Democrats passed a “red flag” law so we can take someone’s guns away if a judge determines them to be a danger to themselves or others. Sure, the “red flag” law doesn’t require or provide any sort of mental health treatment for the dangerous individual, nor does it prevent them from accessing things like sharp knives, rope, matches, gasoline, or even black market guns; but think of all the money we’re saving by not actually treating their underlying condition.
Since I’ve criticized Lucas for not offering any specific policy recommendations, I’d be remiss if I didn’t suggest one of my own. Republicans in the House of Delegates need to get together with their Democratic counterparts in the state Senate and hammer out an agreement on the retail sale of cannabis, including a low-enough tax rate that the illicit market won’t remain the cheapest and easiest option. 100% of the funds generated from the retail sales of pot should be dedicated to mental health and drug treatment programs; inpatient, outpatient, telemedicine, school-based, and more.
Would that completely eradicate the threat of mass shootings? No. It would, however, be far more effective, practical, and constitutional than any gun control measure Senator Lucas could dream up, and it would not only improve the lives of tens of thousands of Virginians who are struggling with their mental health, but save lives as well. Forget “doing something.” Can we please do something that will make a difference?