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Virginia ABC stores register record profits

 

By Amelia Heymann and Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – It’s Saturday night, and it’s busy at the Oxbridge Square ABC store on Hull Street Road. Alone and in groups, shoppers are picking up libations for the evening.

For some customers, this is a once-in-a-blue-moon trip; for others, it’s a regular occurrence. Nadia Goldman says she goes about once a month, while Nicole Booth says she goes every weekend for herself and others.

“My purpose is to party and to get ripped,” Booth said.

Thanks to customers like her, Virginia’s state-owned liquor stores rang up record profits in 2016, according to the Department of Alcoholic Beverage Control.

Last year, the 359 ABC stores across the commonwealth had gross sales of about $895 million – $106 for every resident of Virginia. The stores sold 11.4 million gallons of alcoholic beverages, or 1.4 gallons per capita.

For Virginia officials, what counts most is how much money the stores produce in net profit and state taxes. In 2016, the total was $315 million. That represents a profit margin of more than 35 percent of gross sales.

The amount that the ABC stores funneled into the state treasury has increased by more than one-third over the past five years. (In 2011, the stores’ net profits plus state taxes totaled $235 million.)

Valerie Hubbard, a public relations specialist for the ABC, said an increase in stores might have boosted sales during fiscal year 2016, which ended on June 30.

During the fiscal year, the ABC opened eight new locations across the commonwealth, including one in Floyd County, which had been dry until 2014. In addition, the agency remodeled eight stores and relocated 10 others.

ABC sales may see another increase this year. Since July, stores across the commonwealth began opening at noon on Sundays rather than 1 p.m. Longer hours, of course, mean more opportunity to make a profit.

Which stores sold the most in 2016?

To see how much your local ABC store sold in 2015 and 2016, click on the map

The ABC stores in Fairfax County sold the most alcohol beverages – nearly 1.3 million gallons. Then came Virginia Beach with about 830,000 gallons. But that is to be expected: Fairfax County has 40 ABC stores and a population of about 1.1 million people; Virginia Beach has 14 stores and more than 450,000 residents.

In terms of sales per capita, the top locality was Lexington. The city’s lone ABC store sold a modest 43,340 gallons of alcoholic beverages – but that represented 6.2 gallons for each of Lexington’s 7,045 residents. (Caveat: Lexington is surrounded by Rockbridge County, which doesn’t have an ABC store. Many Rockbridge County residents no doubt buy liquor from the Lexington store, inflating the per-capita statistic.)

Emporia, in Southside Virginia, and Norton, in the state’s southwest corner, had ABC sales of more than 5 gallons per capita. Then came the cities of Williamsburg and Franklin, at about 4 gallons per capita, followed by Charlottesville at 3.8 gallons per capita.

Astute observers may detect a pattern: Lexington is home to the Virginia Military Institute and Washington and Lee University; Williamsburg, to the College of William and Mary; and Charlottesville, to the University of Virginia.

The 10 ABC stores with the highest gross sales last year included one near U.Va. and another near Virginia Tech:

  • 1612 Laskin Road, Virginia Beach – $9,202,992 in gross sales
  • 405 30th St., Virginia Beach – $8,399,650
  • 3333 Virginia Beach Blvd., Virginia Beach – $7,699,741
  • 8413 Old Courthouse Road, Fairfax County – $7,621,199
  • 4312 Wheeler Ave., Alexandria – $7,133,652
  • 10 N. Thompson St., Richmond – $6,979,359
  • 1902 Emmet St., Charlottesville – $6,617,752
  • 2400 Cunningham Drive, Hampton – $6,442,135
  • 1332 S. Main St., Blacksburg – $6,428,867
  • 4320 S. Laburnum Ave., Henrico County – $6,126,451

Virginia has 360 ABC stores. State officials say 92 percent of Virginia’s population lives within 10 minutes of an ABC store.

Fourteen localities in Virginia don’t have an ABC store; several of them are dry, meaning they prohibit the retail sale of distilled spirits. However, such “wet” localities as Rockbridge County (population 22,000) and Manassas Park (population 16,000) don’t have an ABC location.

How does state-controlled liquor affect prices?

According to the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit think tank, in 2015 Virginia had the third-highest distilled spirits tax in the United States. The Virginia tax averaged $19.18 per gallon of spirits. The tax was higher only in the states of Washington ($35.22 per gallon) and Oregon ($22.72).

All of Virginia’s border states have lower spirit taxes. North Carolina’s tax is $12.30 per gallon; the other neighboring states tax spirits at less than $5 a gallon – and just $1.89 in West Virginia.

In Virginia, revenues from liquor sales go into the state government’s general fund, which supports schools, law enforcement and other public services. In 2016, the ABC transferred over $24 million more revenue into the general fund than during the previous year.

Money made by ABC stores also goes toward the agency’s education and training programs to help prevent alcohol abuse and underage drinking.

As lucrative as ABC operations have been for Virginia, some Republican officials have wanted to privatize the sale of alcohol. Virginia is one of only nine states where the government controls liquor stores.

In 2012, then-Gov. Bob McDonnell proposed that the state sell off the ABC stores. The attempt failed because many legislators weren’t willing to lose the revenue that the liquor monopoly generated for the government.

In contrast, Gov. Terry McAuliffe has used his tenure to increase ABC revenues. During his administration, the ABC has opened 19 new stores. Moreover, McAuliffe signed legislation allowing ABC stores to sell 151-proof alcohol such as Everclear. (The existing limit is 101-proof.) The law will take effect July 1.

The ABC projects that during the 2017 fiscal year, alcohol sales will rise more than 4 percent.

Convenient store locations, such as the Hull Street Road shopping center, make liquor shopping easy for Nicole Booth and her friends.

“I actually shop at the closest one to me at the time,” Booth said. “Oxbridge Square is the closest to my house. I buy Hennessy, or Grey Goose vodka.”

Online Quiz: How well do you know Virginia's official emblems?

Some female hunters have sights set on pink camo

By Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Cassie Crouch of Bedford, Virginia, started hunting when she met the man whom she later would marry. “It was one of our first dates,” she said. In 2010, Crouch and her husband Daniel even celebrated their wedding anniversary by hunting wild hogs.

Crouch, who uses a variety of guns as well as a bow and arrow, likes the fact that hunters soon may have a choice of colors for their hunting safety apparel: Hunters would be able to wear bright pink, instead of being limited to blaze orange, under a bill approved by the General Assembly during its recent session.

Another female hunter – Amanda Bailey of Tazewell County – also is looking forward to the new law.

“I would love having the option of wearing pink camouflage or orange,” said Bailey, who hunts deer, elk, coyotes and bear and uses a variety of firearms.

Crouch and Bailey are among a number of female hunters hoping Gov. Terry McAuliffe signs HB 1939into law. If he does, the bill – which was approved unanimously by the House of Delegates and 35-5 by the Senate – will take effect July 1.

HB 1939, sponsored by Del. James Edmunds, R-Halifax, states that “every hunter and every person accompanying a hunter shall (i) wear a blaze orange or blaze pink hat … or blaze orange or blaze pink upper body clothing, that is visible from 360 degrees or (ii) display at least 100 square inches of solid blaze orange or blaze pink material at shoulder level within body reach visible from 360 degrees.”

Many female hunters and stores that cater to them already have been considering pink as a camo option. It’s all part of an effort to give women a choice of colors to wear out in the field. Retailers have begun marketing hoodies, hats and T-shirts for hunters – all in pink.

Del. Kaye Kory, D-Falls Church, is among the legislators who voted for the bill.

“My fellow House members who support the addition of blaze pink to be approved hunting clothing explained that blaze pink is more readily seen at a distance than the traditional hunter’s orange,” Kory said. “Therefore, I supported HB 1939.”

Virginia is not the only state offering blaze pink as a substitute for blaze orange for hunters. Wisconsin was the first, and since then, New York, Colorado and Louisiana have followed suit.

Some believe that the color option will draw more women to hunting. About 13,000 women currently are registered to hunt in Virginia.

While some women see the new law as a fashion statement, other female hunters prefer blaze orange to blaze pink.

Tamala Doup, who lives in Midlothian, has been hunting most of her life. She killed her first deer at age 11. Doup hunts every year between November and beginning of January, using a black powder rifle.

“I personally prefer the blaze orange from a safety aspect,” Doup said. “It seems much brighter and easily recognizable in the woods, especially in dense areas.”

Doup has another reason for preferring orange over pink: She is colorblind. Experts say colorblind people may have more trouble seeing pink than seeing orange.

“That bright blaze orange is better for me, personally,” Doup said. “It’s all about safety, not fashion.”

New law lets concession stands sell cans of beer

By Jessica Samuels, Capital New Service

RICHMOND – Beginning July 1, Virginians will be able to buy a can of beer – not just a cup – at indoor and outdoor concession stands that are licensed to sell alcoholic beverages.

That’s the effect of a bill that Gov. Terry McAuliffe signed into law on Monday. Senate Bill 1469 will add “single original metal cans” to the list of disposable containers that can be used for the sale of beer, wine and mixed alcoholic drinks.

The legislation, sponsored by Sen. Ben Chafin, R-Montgomery, will apply to concession stands at amphitheaters, stadiums, coliseums, convention centers and similar facilities, which currently must dispense alcoholic beverages in plastic or paper cups.

Under the new law, for example, racetrack events like NASCAR racing will be able to sell cans of beer.

Chafin’s measure is the same as HB 1744, which also received unanimous approval from the House and Senate. The House bill’s sponsor, Republican Del. Nick Rush of Montgomery County, called it a “common-sense” law.

“It allows the original metal container to be disposable,” he said.

The legislation is just one of several bills from the 2017 legislative session that may change the state’s alcoholic beverage control laws. Others include:

HB 2433, which would treat cider as wine for all legal purposes. The measure, sponsored by Del. David Bulova, D-Fairfax, has passed both houses and is on McAuliffe’s desk.

SB 1150, which would require the ABC Board to offer training to bartenders on how to recognize and intervene in “situations that may lead to sexual assault.” The bill, introduced by Sen. Barbara Favola, D-Arlington, received final approval from the Senate on Wednesday.

HB 2220, which would create a new limited mixed beverage license for retail cigar shops. The proposal, sponsored by Del. Steven Landes, R-Augusta, has passed the House and is awaiting a final vote in the Senate.

Schools still can’t start before Labor Day

By Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Students in Virginia’s largest public school districts can continue enjoying summer vacation through the Labor Day weekend after a Senate panel killed a bill that would have allowed school districts to start classes earlier.

House Bill 1983,whichsought to end a rule nicknamed the “KingsDominionLaw,” had been approved by the House in January. But the Senate Education and Health Committee voted 9-6 that the bill be “passed by indefinitely.”

Under current state law, public schools cannot start before Labor Day unless they get a waiver from the Virginia Department of Education because of harsh winter weather or other “good cause.” The bill would have removed the waiver requirement and allowed school systems to decide when to resume classes.

“Each local school board shall be responsible for setting the school calendar and determining the opening date of the school year,” stated the legislation, which was sponsored by Sen. Thomas “Tag” Greason, R-Loudoun.

Greason noted that this was the eighth year in a row that he had carried a bill “giving local control to the localities on their school calendar.”

“It’s commonly referred to as the Labor Day bill, the Kings Dominion bill. We are just allowing the localities to set their date on their own,” he said.

The Senate Education and Health Committee killed the bill at its meeting last Thursday. In January, the panel had voted down a Senate bill (SB 1111, by Sen. John Edwards, D-Roanoke) to expand the reasons that school districts could receive a waiver to open before Labor Day.

More than 75 school districts in Northern Virginia and the western half of the state already have waivers to hold classes before Labor Day. That is usually because they have a history of having to close schools during the winter because of snow or other weather conditions.

About 55 school systems do not have waivers. They include many of Virginia’s largest districts, such as the public schools in Fairfax, Virginia Beach, Chesterfield, Henrico and Richmond.

Supporters of the current law say that it helps protect Virginia’s tourism industry and that parents prefer to have schools on vacation until after Labor Day, the traditional end of summer.

Theme parks like Kings Dominion and Busch Gardens have advocated keeping schools from starting before Labor Day. That holiday weekend can be a last chance for families to visit the parks for the summer. The theme parks also rely on teenage workers who would have to quit before the season ends if schools started early.

Critics of the current law say local school boards should be able to set the calendar. Some also believe that starting classes before Labor Day would boost students’ academic performance.

How they voted

Here is how the Senate Education and Health Committee voted on HB 1983 (“School calendar; opening day of school year”).

02/09/17 Senate: Passed by indefinitely in Education and Health (9-Y 6-N)

YEAS – Newman, Saslaw, Lucas, Barker, Black, Carrico, Cosgrove, Lewis, Dunnavant – 9.

NAYS – Howell, Locke, Petersen, Chase, Suetterlein, Peake – 6.

Pink is the new orange for female hunters

By Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND, Va. – Virginia legislators are making a fashion statement for female hunters: Blaze pink is the new orange.

The House of Delegates unanimously passed a bill allowing hunters to wear blaze pink instead of blaze orange hunting apparel.

“Blaze pink is proven to be more visible then blaze orange,” said Del. James Edmunds, R-South Boston. He sponsored HB 1939, which now goes to the Senate for consideration.

Many female hunters and stores that cater to them already have been considering pink as a camo option. It’s all part of an effort to give women a choice of colors to wear out in the field. Retailers have begun marketing pink hoodies, hats, vests, T-shirts and other clothing for hunters.

For safety reasons, Virginia requires hunters to wear blaze orange during deer hunting season – so they’ll stand out and not get shot by another hunter accidentally.

Edmund’s legislation expands the color palette. It states:

“Every hunter and every person accompanying a hunter shall (i) wear a blaze orange or blaze pink hat ... or blaze orange or blaze pink upper body clothing, that is visible from 360 degrees or (ii) display at least 100 square inches of solid blaze orange or blaze pink material at shoulder level within body reach visible from 360 degrees.”

Virginia is not the only state offering blaze pink as a substitute for blaze orange for hunters. Wisconsin was the first, and since then, New York, Colorado and Louisiana have followed suit.

Some believe the color option will draw more women to hunting. About 13,000 women currently are registered to hunt in Virginia.

“It would be a good thing for women to wear the colors of camo they want, and not be stuck with a male pattern,” said Richard Hill, who works at the Bob Moates Sports Shop in Chesterfield.

Virginians say colleges prepare graduates for jobs

By Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Most Virginians say high schools don’t effectively prepare students for the workplace but the state’s colleges and universities do, according to a poll by researchers at Virginia Commonwealth University.

The Commonwealth Education Poll reported that only 36 percent of Virginians believe high school graduates are ready to join the workforce – but almost three-fourths of the respondents said graduates of community colleges and four-year colleges are job-ready.

Virginians believe the state’s institutions of higher education are especially effective at preparing students to work in scientific fields, the survey said.

“This poll shows the trust citizens have in our colleges and universities to prepare students for the careers of the future,” said Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent.

Trent said that the statewide poll – conducted by the Commonwealth Educational Policy Institute at VCU’s L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs – indicated that Virginia is on the right path in revamping its high school curriculum. More than three out of four respondents said they want high schools to prepare students for careers.

“Last year, Gov. (Terry) McAuliffe worked in a bipartisan manner with members of the General Assembly to pass legislation that would redesign high school to focus more on workforce skills and provide a variety of rigorous pathways to graduation,” she said. “And this poll clearly shows that the citizens of the commonwealth overwhelmingly support this approach to bring education into the 21st century.”

Trent joined Robyn McDougle, the institute’s interim executive director, at two news conferences at Capitol Square last week to discuss the survey results.

In an interview, McDougle offered an explanation for why Virginians think high school graduates aren’t ready for the workforce: It’s because high schools focus more on college prep than on career skills. Most Virginians believe the state’s high school graduates are ready for college, according to the poll.

K-12 education

The survey found that:

  • Two-thirds of Virginians said the state’s schools do not have enough funds to meet their needs.
  • 69 percent of the respondents are willing to pay more in taxes to keep state funding for public schools at the current level. Partisan differences were evident, however. While 85 percent of Democrats said they’d pay more in taxes, only 52 percent of Republicans felt that way.
  • 54 percent said they prefer that the added funds be used to increase teacher pay.
  • Most Virginians aren’t familiar with dual enrollment programs, which allow high school students to take college courses and receive credit toward both a high school diploma and a bachelor’s degree.

Higher education

Two-thirds of the respondents say colleges and universities are providing the skills useful in obtaining a job. And more than 60 percent say the state’s institutions of higher education are preparing students to be engaged citizens.

“Colleges and universities in Virginia as a whole are perceived positively by a large majority of the public in terms of outcomes that support the state’s economy and civic life,” said McDougle, an associate professor at the Wilder School.

According to the survey:

  • Virginians are concerned about the cost to attend college, and a narrow majority would be willing to pay higher taxes for need-based financial aid. A strong majority wants college administrators to spend privately raised non-taxpayer sources of funding to reduce tuition and fees.
  • An increasing number of Virginians – more than half – know students can transfer from a two-year to a four-year school, and most of them say the transfer process is easy.

The Commonwealth Education Poll involved interviewing a random sample of 806 adults from across Virginia by landline phones and cellphones between Nov. 8 and 17. The margin of error was plus or minus 4.3 percentage points.

For the complete poll results and methodology, see http://cepi.vcu.edu/publications/polls/.

Treat, Don’t Jail Drug Users, Poll Says

By Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Most Virginians agree that people who use heroin or abuse prescription drugs should receive treatment, not jail time, according to a statewide poll.

More than six out of 10 respondents believe heroin users should be offered treatment instead of being arrested and charged with a crime, the 2017 Public Policy Poll by Virginia Commonwealth University found. Seven out of 10 felt the same way about prescription drug abusers.

Citizens surveyed also voiced support for treatment programs instead of incarceration for nonviolent offenders who suffer from mental illness. The poll said 88 percent of respondents said mentally ill nonviolent offenders should be required to participate in community-based treatment programs instead of incarcerated. That feeling was shared by Democrats, Republicans and independents.

Brian Moran, Virginia’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, said the survey “demonstrates support for the governor’s initiatives with regard to mental health and combating the opioid epidemic.”

“Virginians view opioid abusers and those experiencing lack of treatment for mental illness as an increasingly difficult issue plaguing communities and that treatment options should be available for these users,” Moran said.

The poll was conducted by the Center for Public Policy at the L. Douglas Wilder School of Government and Public Affairs at Virginia Commonwealth University. Officials released the results at a news conference this week.

The survey involved telephone interviews in December with a representative sample of 1,000 adults across Virginia. The poll had a margin of error of 4.1 percentage points.

Besides asking about addiction and mental health issues, the survey also asked about police community relations. About three-quarters of poll respondents believe police in their community treat people fairly, do a good job handling race relations and use the appropriate amount of force in dealing with suspects.

“Public perceptions of police in our community are key to the maintenance of public safety,” said Robyn McDougle, faculty director of the Office of Public Policy Outreach and associate professor of criminal justice at the Wilder School.

“As many communities around the country are addressing dismal community police relations, Virginians’ perceptions of police are very favorable, which is a testament to the continual training and outreach that our police departments have done and continue to do around the commonwealth.”

Citizens are not as confident in the ability of public safety agencies to respond to acts of terrorism in Virginia, the survey found. Almost three of every four respondents indicated they were concerned about that.

“Terrorist attacks around the world are becoming regularly reported news events, and the commonwealth’s proximity to the nation’s capital has kept concerns regarding personal safety at the forefront of our citizens’ thoughts. Recent poll responses highlight the need for continual community conversations and preparations,” McDougle said.

The complete poll results are available at http://news.vcu.edu/pdfs/Public-Safety-Poll.pdf

Lawmakers Target College Tuition and Access

By Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Legislators from both parties and both houses of the General Assembly gathered Tuesday to highlight more than 20 bills that they say would improve higher education in Virginia.

More than 10 percent of the state’s lawmakers participated in a news conference at Capitol Square, aiming their comments at university financing practices and tuition assistance.

“Virginians want our public universities to be more transparent, more accountable and more efficient,” said Sen. Chap Petersen, D-Fairfax.

Lawmakers said their proposals would make college more affordable and provide financial aid to in-state students.

“Many of my colleagues and I in the General Assembly have worked to increase the number of in-state slots at Virginia’s public colleges and universities for nearly a decade,” said Del. Tim Hugo, R-Centerville.

“The goal of this initiative is to ensure that qualified Virginia high school students are not turned away from Virginia’s premier universities in favor of out-of-state students. We must continue to work to ensure that our graduating high school students are able to pursue their secondary education here in Virginia,” Hugo said.

Del. Dave Albo, R-Fairfax, said he had learned, to his surprise, that colleges sometimes use tuition from certain in-state students to subsidize other students.

“Like many parents in Virginia, I have worked hard to save money with the Virginia 529 College Savings Plan to provide a prepaid tuition for my son’s future education,” Albo said.

“I was shocked and extremely upset to learn that some of the money that I worked hard to save is going to be used to pay for some other student’s tuition. My bill, HB 1410, simply says that a school cannot take money from one student and give it to another student against their will.”

Hugo said he and his colleagues already have filed 20 bills and have “another four or five coming” to change how the state’s institutions of higher education operate.

Some delegates who paid their way through college said their legislation focuses on fostering financial transparency and providing more information on how state-funded schools spend their money.

The bills touted by lawmakers include:

  • SB 985, sponsored by Sen. Bill DeSteph, R-Virginia Beach. It would prohibit in-state tuition and instructional fees for undergraduate students at Virginia’s public institutions of higher education from increasing more than the national inflation rate for consumer goods.
  • SB 1088, by Sen. Glen Sturtevant, R-Midlothian. It would require the governing board of each state college and university to tell incoming freshmen the maximum amount that their tuition could increase during their four years in school.
  • SB 1405, by Sen. Scott Surovell, D-Mount Vernon. It would require state colleges and universities to notify students and accept public comments before raising tuition or fees.
  • HB 1410, submitted by Albo, and HB 1886, by Hugo. These bills would require most state colleges and universities to set aside at least 75 percent of the undergraduate admissions for Virginia residents.
  • HB 2260, filed by Del. Ronald Villanueva, R-Virginia Beach. It would require each school to hire “a full-time ombudsman to provide confidential and independent assistance to faculty, staff, and students in resolving complaints, conflicts, disputes, and other problems.”

Capitol is Site of Dueling Gun Rallies

By Jessica Nolte and Jessica Samuels, Capital News Service

RICHMOND – Unified by their desire to preserve safety, but divided on ways to do so, both sides of the Virginia gun debate rallied on Capitol Square on Monday.

“Hello deplorables. Are you ready to take back the Commonwealth of Virginia?” Corey Stewart, a Republican candidate for governor, asked as members of the Virginia Citizens Defense League rallied in the morning.

Stewart cautioned the crowd that while it is possible to lose a battle and win the war, that means it is also possible to win the battle and lose the war. He said they won the battle for the presidency with Trump’s 2016 election.

“We have to gain the controls in Virginia because it’s not just enough to defend our rights, we need to further those rights,” Stewart said.

It’s not enough to have control in Washington, he said.

“There are gun grabbers. One of them is right over there in the governor’s mansion,” Stewart said.

Sen. Dick Black, R-Loudoun County, told the story of an uprising in Mexico, and said that while the rebels won on the battlefield, they ultimately had to surrender because they ran out of ammunition.

“I want to see the American people armed,” Black said. “The only way we control our government is by being too resistant to be suppressed.”

Many members of the group donned camouflage, and several wore hats distinguishing themselves as military veterans or Donald Trump supporters. Most of the attendees marked themselves with bright orange stickers that said “Guns Save Lives.”

Some attendees at the rally were openly carrying firearms.

“Every event that we have, we make a special point to invite people who are carrying,” Black said. “You’re welcome to bring whatever you want. You can open carry, you can conceal and carry-- anything that we do.”

Later that afternoon the Virginia Center for Public Safety held its rally in the same location, at the Bell Tower.

“We’re not out here being unreasonable,” said Lt. Gov. Ralph S. Northam, a Democratic candidate for governor.

“All we’re asking – all we’re asking – is that we can live in communities, that we can work in communities, that we can play and that we can raise our children and have them to go to school to be in safe environments where they don’t have to worry about being the victims of gun violence,” Northam said.

Speakers throughout the rally mentioned the 32 deaths from the 2007 Virginia Tech shooting, the 26 deaths from the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting and the 49 people killed in the Orlando night club shooting .

“For the fifth year in a row, gun homicides in Virginia are on the way up,” Attorney General Mark Herring, a Democrat, said.

Herring said that while the General Assembly ought to take action, he will not wait.

“We’ve gone from prosecuting almost no crimes out of the office of attorney general to over one hundred gun crimes in 2016 alone,” Herring said.

Speakers at both rallies said guns should be taken out of the hands of criminals. Speakers at the Virginia Center for Public Safety rally said the way to do that was through legislation, including increased regulation at gun shows and stricter guidelines for background checks.

“I served in a chamber whose response to gun violence is a moment of silence,” said U.S. Rep. Donald McEachin, a former member of the Virginia Senate. “What is that about? A moment of silence never saved anyone.”

Barbara Parker of Collinsville, the mother of Allison Parker, the Roanoke journalist who was killed on live television in 2015, was at the rally.

We will be here till we have sensible gun legislation in our state and in our country. People can’t assume it can never happen to them or to their loved ones,” Parker said.

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