‘It could be any one of us’: Va. lawmakers react to Florida school shooting

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — The news of Wednesday’s high school shooting in Florida spread quickly among lawmakers in Richmond.

“It just kind of rippled through the building,” said Del. Cheryl Turpin (D-Virginia Beach).

For Turpin, it was personal. She’s been a school teacher for more than 25 years.

“It could be any one of us,” she said. “It could be any one of my peers. It could be any school, any time, any place in the United States.”

Turpin said her students practice what to do in the event of an active shooting, but she believes there is more lawmakers could be doing in Richmond, too.

House Minority Leader David J. Toscano and Caucus Chair Charniele Herring agree. On Thursday, they said thoughts and prayers are not enough.

“In the last month, our colleagues across the aisle did not support more than a dozen gun safety reform measures, including bills to ban bumpstocks, institute universal background checks, and keep guns away from those who present a threat to themselves or others,” Toscano and Herring said in a statement. “This is shameful. To all who fear or who have felt gun violence, we hear you and we will continue to fight for you.”

Turpin took time Thursday to speak about the shooting on the House floor.

She read a list of dates of other school shootings.

“The list goes on, far too long than it should,” she said. “All of these days start out good at an American school or university.”

She said, while some people would say it’s too soon to speak about the Feb. 14 shooting, she believes it’s far too late.

On the other side of the aisle, a Republican stood up to recognize the lives lost Wednesday.

Del. Margaret Ransone (R-Westmoreland) moved to adjourn in memory and honor of the victims.

“We are praying for the families, teachers and school administration in Florida today,” she said. “Virginia is with you.”

Del. John McGuire (R-Henrico) called the shooting a tragedy.

“It just kind of rips your heart out,” he said. “I can’t imagine what the parents are feeling. Imagine a member of your family is gone today when you wake up. It’s unbelievable.”

While Democrats are renewing their calls for gun safety legislation, McGuire said new laws might not be the answer right now.

“I know we have a lot of laws on the books that aren’t being enforced, but really we as a country, we as a people, need to keep an eye on each other. If you see something, say something, do something,” he said.

McGuire, a former Navy SEAL, also pointed to an effort House Republicans led last year.

HB1392, which passed in 2017, has allowed qualified school security officers to carry guns. The aim of this legislation was to make schools safer while saving money.

“As a former school teacher, Speaker [Kirk] Cox believes schools are for learning, not violence,” his spokesperson Parker Slaybaugh said in a statement. “The House has taken concrete steps to prevent gun violence and make our schools safer.”

In 2013, the House passed HB2343 creating the “School Security Infrastructure Improvement Fund” and “Local School Safety Fund.” It allowed money to be used to pay for upgrades to school security such as hallway cameras, buzz-in systems and automatic locks on classroom doors.

The 2013, 2014 and 2015 budgets allocated about $6 each year for school security infrastructure grants.

As for any additional legislation to come, McGuire said it might be too early to determine the best course of action.

“It seems like we’re playing whack-a-mole. Every time there’s a problem in society, we want to have a quick reaction,” he said. “That’s why I say we need to stand back and see what’s going on.”

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