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Kaine: “We Don't Have To Be Bystanders To Violence”

Gun Show
Under Senator Tim Kaine's reintroduced the Virginia Plan to Reduce Gun Violence Act, loopholes in existing federal laws, such as those requiring background checks on all firearm sales and transfers, would be closed if passed. (Photo: Crixell Matthews/VPM News)

Earlier this week at a press conference to talk about his bipartisan infrastructure jobs bill, Senator Tim Kaine touched on recent police misconduct allegations and past gun-related tragedies, which include the mass shooting at Virginia Tech over a decade ago. 

Remarking on the deaths of George Floyd, Daunte Wright and the arrest of Army 2nd. Caron Nazario, Kaine said he supports police reform, including ending qualified immunity through Sen. Cory Booker’s George Floyd Justice in Policing Act, which passed in the House last month. 

“It does a number of things that would promote greater professionalism in the policing in this country,” Kaine said. “[It] would reduce the risk of these horrific instances like the murder of George Floyd or the shooting of Daunte Wright, or the horrible treatment of an Army Lieutenant that we saw in Windsor just a few days ago, we need to do these reforms.”

Qualified immunity, according to the bill, is a legal doctrine that shields law enforcement officers from being held legally liable for violating an individual’s constitutional rights.

“If you don't have accountability for reckless behavior, you get more of it. And we need to no longer shield reckless behavior with immunity,” Kaine said.

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Sen. Kaine says he introduced a package of gun legislation similar what was passed by Virginia's General Assembly last year. (Photo: Screen shot of press conference taken on 4/15/21)

The senator also wants to make settlement payments from misconduct cases more transparent, and let the general public see how much local governments are spending on litigation. He said many people are unaware that city, county and state taxes go toward paying for settlements in police misconduct cases.

“That's the wrong way to use tax dollars, let's reduce the risk of these instances of misconduct, rather than have the misconduct happen and then do secret settlements that the public doesn't have access to,” he said.

On gun violence, the senator said more needs to be done to protect citizens.

“Virginia since 2019, has grappled with the scar tissue of too much gun violence,” he said. “Whether it's shootings that grab world headlines as the tragic shooting at Virginia Tech in 2007 did or the sad, nearly everyday shootings that happen in neighborhoods around Virginia where people are needlessly killed or suicides.”

He said those tragedies happen when guns are too easily available, and people can come together to prevent them in the future.

“We don't have to be bystanders to violence. And we don't have to be bystanders when bad things happen,” he said. “We have an instinct to try to fix and improve. And that instinct is very, very palpable right now with respect to the scourge of gun violence in this country.”

Kaine compared gun safety measures to other policy changes, such as mandating seat belts in car construction and barring tobacco sales to minors, and said deaths can be prevented by policy.

“So it's always about improvement. And we know we can improve in the gun safety area,” Kaine said.

Kaine is expected to reintroduce his own gun bill, called the “Virginia Plan,” which is co-sponsored by Sen. Mark Warner. The legislation calls for gun violence prevention measures similar to those adopted by Virginia’s General Assembly last year.

“What Senator Warren and I have done is taken common sense provisions passed by the Virginia General Assembly,” Kaine said, citing background checks and “red flag” legislation that temporarily removes firearms from people who are subject to judicial protection orders.

Kaine said the time for “bystander-ism” is over, and he hopes to succeed in Congress: 

“Mark and I have the feeling that if we can do it in Virginia, we can do it in Congress, because for a long time, Virginia was a bystander  and these tragedies would happen.”