When legislators assemble in Richmond on Tuesday for Gov. Ralph Northam’s special session to address gun violence, we wish we could place in front of each one of them a series of portraits of those 12 employees at the Virginia Beach municipal building who died May 31 in our most recent (as of this writing) example of mass murder.

We would want lawmakers to look into those eyes for guidance, to remember those faces as beacons for a path forward in compromise, as icons to suggest a new balance in our legal right to own and bear arms and our moral responsibility to keep each other safe.

What happened in Virginia Beach on that Friday afternoon is a tragedy. A gunman — we decline to name him — decided that his coworkers’ lives were his pathway to something none of us really can understand. Grievance? Notoriety? Self-expression? What can cause a person to take up arms and fire at will? We can’t always comprehend that.

But here’s a part of this tragedy we can define: We require something this reprehensible to motivate our leaders to convene for what we would beg to be civil and open-minded discussion of how weapons are regulated in Virginia. They should do this as a routine course of action, not in the sort of political theater that special sessions often create.

But that happens. It took the deaths of 17 at a school shooting in Parkland, Fla., to bring together legislators in Florida in a bipartisan effort to stem, if not end, such awfulness. Not even the massacre of more than twice that many at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando less than a year earlier had done that. But ultimately they made progress, as slothlike as it might seem.

In Virginia, we can look back more than 12 years to the marauding student at Virginia Tech, who killed 32 students and faculty and wounded 17 more on that terrible April day. Our leaders let that pass with only a nominal change in our laws. Their assignment must have been too difficult.

Gov. Northam wants legislators to take action. Whether they will lay down their political arms is to be seen. The dynamics we witness across the nation tells us that right and reason are often dispatched by politics in a sad massacre of their own.

Let there be no question: We are not advocating any restriction that would undermine the Second Amendment. We value the Constitution and its principles, and we know that for many owning a gun for recreational purposes is an inalienable right. That should remain in place.

But we do think the key points of the national debate about gun rights are important to underscore:

» All purchases of guns, no matter the outlet, should require a license with a background check and a waiting period.

» No one under the age of 21 should be allowed to own a handgun.

» Assault-style weapons have no place in the hands of civilians.

» If conceal-carry is going to be lawful, that must require a permit as well.

But then those were the sorts of ideas many suggested in 2007, after Virginia Tech, when our leaders barely could move toward protections.

We hesitate to use a shooting metaphor to underscore our point, but never has one seemed more appropriate:

As lawmakers consider their targets for this special session, we pray they do so through the scope of human lives, that they can ignore all the noise and distraction around them and draw a precise bead on the idea of making our state and our corner of this nation safer for all.

The Martinsville Bulletin

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