This is an emotional day for me.
April 16, 2007, was the worst day of my life. Eleven years ago, I went to Blacksburg, Virginia, to offer whatever support I could to a community grieving what was – at that time – the worst mass shooting in our country’s history.
I was Governor of Virginia, and I felt responsible to be there for this community. I walked Virginia Tech’s campus with university leaders. We met with faculty and students and families and friends who were just beginning to pick up the pieces. But even through their grief, the Virginia Tech community was already showing astounding resilience and strength in the wake of unimaginable tragedy.
Eleven years ago today, we lost 32 people. We lost students who’d grown up 10 miles away from campus, and students from halfway across the world. We lost undergraduate students, graduate students, teachers of foreign language, teachers of engineering, teachers of the year, and world-renowned experts in their fields. We lost 32 people who still had so much to give to the world, and whose families will never feel whole again.
Photo credit: Jared Soares
In those early days, I remember resolving that I never, never, wanted that to happen again to my community – or any other community. And together with the community and lawmakers, we immediately began working on ways to prevent future tragedies like this one.
I also remember hoping that Virginia Tech would remain the worst mass shooting in American history. I know that’s a strange thing to say about your own state, but after experiencing something that painful, all I could hope for was that it would be the last of its kind and that other people in other places wouldn’t have to grapple with such heartbreak. I knew that if it happened again – if it kept happening – then it meant we haven’t learned anything. And that’s something I couldn’t, and still can’t, accept.
But in 2016, I visited the Pulse Nightclub in Orlando after 49 people lost their lives in yet another senseless mass shooting – and my worst fear, that we wouldn’t learn from what happened at Virginia Tech and take action to stop this kind of gun violence, was affirmed.
That fear was affirmed once again just a few weeks ago, when I met with the courageous students from Parkland.
We cannot keep letting this happen again and again and again. We have to do all we can to get these shootings to stop. We have to show we have learned something from these tragedies – because, make no mistake, we have learned from them.
We’ve learned that the NRA’s allegiance is to gun manufacturers, not responsible gun owners. We’ve learned that the things we have always advocated for, like more universal and extensive background checks, may have had the power to prevent that tragedy 11 years ago and so many similar tragedies since. And we’ve learned that these commonsense solutions are overwhelmingly supported by the vast majority of Americans.
We’ve learned that we can no longer let this revert back to being a fight along party lines or beholden to partisan division.
Those of us who have the honor of representing our communities, on any level, must remind ourselves that we’re put here not just because of our heads, but also because of our hearts – and maybe, especially, because of our backbone.
We are obligated to use that backbone to fight for what we believe in. Eleven years ago, I committed to fighting for smarter gun violence legislation. And now, a decade later, I remain committed to that fight.