Del. Hurst holds Safe Virginia Initiative town hall at VMI

Del. Chris Hurst holds Safe Virginia Initiative town hall at VMI. (Photo: Annie Andersen)

LEXINGTON, Va. (WSET) -- A group of Virginia lawmakers are holding listening sessions to try talk about the relationship between gun violence and mental health.

A special presentation at Virginia Military Institute gave shocking statistics about gun suicides in rural Virginia, saying "You can see where we are now- very high suicide rate."

That's something Blacksburg Police Chief Anthony Wilson says he sees all too often. He said, "We do a lot of mental health. And because 60 percent of my population is under 26, we see the early incidents of mental illness."

That's why he was happy to serve on a panel for the newly formed Safe Virginia Initiative, to make sure lawmakers in Richmond hear from people in rural areas- where departments are smaller.

"We feel like our citizenry is kind of in favor of doing this kind of legislation, but we have to realize without resources the problem is we might do it poorly or ineffectively," said Wilson.

"This is the way that you do it. You seek input from those stakeholders that would be primarily affected," pointed out Delegate Chris Hurst.

Hurst serves as the regional chair for the initiative, and moderated the conversation at VMI.

Virginia has fewer gun laws than many other states, but Wilson says they need to find a way to take guns out of the hands of people who want to hurt themselves or others.

"There may be a moment of indecision, and we see lots of folks who who attempt in other methods survive and recover, the gun doesn't give you that option that often," reminded Wilson.

One option presented- an extreme risk protective order which would allow the court to seize guns from people showing those signs.

"Main debate is this- It's right to firearm ownership over having a society use laws to try and save lives," said Hurst.

In the most recent session, gun legislation died in committee, but Hurst thinks by working with law enforcement, lawmakers can get something passed.

"If there are other solutions brought to the table, I think we can vet them all. But here is one that other states have done that shows to work. It saves lives. It reduces the number of gun suicides," argued Hurst.

The listening sessions will go on all over the state all summer long. In October, they will make a report of their findings.

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