The News & Record
South Boston News & Record
and Mecklenburg Sun
Home   •   News   •   Sports   •   Classifieds   •   Community   •   Health   •   Entertainment   •   Obituaries   •   Opinions   •   Weather
Advertising | Contact | Register
Advanced Search
News

Halifax Marketplace cranks up with clean-up, shredding, art

Ashworth guilty of second degree murder

19-year-old convicted by jury for July 2019 slaying in Clarksville

ROUSING RETURN FOR WINE FEST


Sports

Cunningham qualifies for state golf tournament


Community


Opinion


A&E

Opinion

Close to home

SoVaNow.com / April 01, 2021
A link to an article that ran this week in The Washington Post came over my email and I couldn’t bear to click. It was titled, “He said he was going to watch cartoons. Instead, he opened his dad’s gun safe.” Underneath was a short caption to give readers an idea of what to expect if they chose to pull up the piece: “Every day in America, kids get their hands on lethal weapons, with disastrous consequences.”

I don’t think anyone in Halifax County needed to read that particular story this week.

A family is shattered and a community is shaken by the tragic death of a 31-year-old father in the Clays Mill area who died Friday at the hands of his 12-year-old son. According to Sheriff Fred Clark, the boy was frightened by what he thought was an intruder approaching the front door of the home, so he grabbed a rifle and fired a shot. The erstwhile intruder was the boy’s dad, who was struck by the single bullet and died as the boy’s mother screamed out in terror at the victim’s side. This is all too horrible to contemplate, much less talk openly about, and one can only feel sorrow for all involved and hope against hope that the lives of this family’s are not doomed to be spent in permanent, overpowering misery and pain.

Last week in this space, I wrote about a fleeting personal connection to the Boulder, Colo., shooting on March 22 that killed 10 people at a King Soopers supermarket. (I had shopped for groceries at the same store back in 2019, during a visit out west.) Our country’s plague of mass shootings occupies a prominent place in the headlines, but in terms of lives lost, these garish slaughterhouse moments take a back seat to the daily toll of deaths in the U.S. from accidental and reckless gun use. Post the numbers side-by-side, and the comparison isn’t even close.

In that same column, I offered a suggestion — that instead of thinking of gun control legislation as the solution, it’s time to reframe this debate to focus on gun safety, recognizing that America is awash with guns, no one is ever going to take them away, and the best approach for reducing gun deaths is to spread the gospel of responsible gun ownership. If that means mandating NRA gun safety education as a condition for acquiring firearms, so be it. (It would be a massive revenue boost for an organization reviled by many.) Just to draw a comparison, before you can take a jet ski out on the lake, you’re first required to take a safety course on the operation of personal watercraft. I don’t know why matters should be any different for owning or using a gun.

What are guns good for? Hunting. Target practice. Fun at the shooting range. All of the above. Somewhere down the list — it should be much further down, in my humble opinion — is keeping a gun around for purposes of self-defense. Sure, it feels like a God-given right to be able to protect oneself and one’s family from harm, and no one would really argue with that. But consider the costs — consider all the times a child has cracked open a gun safe with tragic consequences, or a half-bent household member got ahold of a rifle or a pistol he should never had had access to, or a bullet is fired to deadly effect because someone got careless with the firearm. It happens all the time. To people and in places we all know.

Outright reckless attitudes towards guns is perhaps more rare, but you do see it from time to time. There was an exchange at a meeting of the Halifax County Board of Supervisors back in November that might have marked the board’s proudest moment of the past 12 months (the competition for that honor isn’t particularly fierce.) County supervisors, after foolishly considering the idea of conferring official status on the Halifax County Militia, did an about-face and denied the request, distancing themselves from the militia after hearing an earful from citizens, law enforcement officers and others who grasped immediately what a bad idea the whole business was. That part certainly wasn’t a proud moment for the board. But ED-6 supervisor Stanley Brandon did an excellent job of making a statement at that November meeting that we should all take to heart.

Speaking to Mitzi Thompson, the militia’s putative commander, Brandon brought up one of her more outrageous comments at a prior meeting, when Thompson attested that militia members had the training to shoot “the right ones” if a riot ever broke out. Brandon offered the perfect retort (after the fact, sure, but better late than never): “Ms. Thompson said she and people in the militia, they teach them the ‘right ones to shoot.’ That was said in this room. I’ll never forget it. I’ve taken gun courses and I’ve never had anyone tell me they were teaching me whom to shoot.

“It is illegal to hurt someone,” Brandon said.

Yes it is. It is illegal to shoot someone except in vanishingly rare circumstances that no one should ever want to be a part of, even if you feel you are “doing the right thing” by exercising a right to self-defense. Fetishizing gun violence — marinating in the fantasy that you might find yourself in the position someday to shoot “the right one” — is tantamount to mental illness in my book. At a minimum, people who know guns and respect their fearsome power (like, one supposes, the instructor of the gun course that Supervisor Brandon completed) should be given a prominent role in coming up with answers for reducing the gun-related violence and suffering that is inflicted with depressing regularity in America each and every day. It happens in Halifax County more than any of us should ever wish. This week’s terrible news is only the latest reminder. In its aftermath, let us mourn, let us contemplate and let us act.

***

On Tuesday, Gov. Ralph Northam traveled to Alexandria for an announcement that on the face of it would seem to have little to do with Southside Virginia. Northam was joined by Pete Buttigieg, the former Democratic presidential candidate who now serves as U.S. Secretary of Transportation in the Biden Administration, to hail an agreement between Virginia, Amtrak, CSX and the Virginia Railway Express to sink $3.7 billion dollars-with-a-B into the Commonwealth’s ailing rail infrastructure. Not that Virginia is alone on this score: Train travel and rail freight capacity throughout the U.S. is a bad joke and would be viewed as an embarrassment in countries where high-speed rail service is considered an essential and efficient service.

The centerpiece of the deal between state and federal officials, CSX and the rail passenger services (Amtrak and VRE) is the construction of a new bridge over the Potomac River that will double existing capacity at one of the busiest rail hubs in the country in Northern Virginia. Potentially, however, Southside has a major stake in the success of this venture. That’s because it also includes the purchase of right-of-way on CSX’s abandoned line running from Petersburg to the outskirts of Raleigh, N.C., the future foundation of high-speed rail service connecting points up and down the East Coast. (The line passes a short distance east of the Town of South Hill, about a hour from South Boston.) The construction of the Southeast High Speed Rail Corridor would be a massive win for the region (our local welding programs would go gangbusters) and would help bridge the divide between rural and urban communities. It’s early, a lot more has to happen to bring the project to fruition, but the SEHRC concept has been kicking around for 30 years and this is the single biggest step forward yet.

This is potentially a very exciting time for Southside and Southwest Virginia. As part of a $2 trillion infrastructure package that Joe Biden unveiled Wednesday in Pittsburgh, the federal government would spend $100 billion to make universal high-speed broadband a reality across the country. To put this number in context, just consider some possible comparisons. The U.S. has an overall population of about 330 million people, with Virginia representing about 3 percent of that number (around 8.5 million residents.) Realistically under any plan to spend this $100 billion, the Commonwealth would likely receive more than 3 percent — lots of factors would come into play, geography and rural/urban settlement patterns among them), but even a share as low as 3 percent of one hundred billion dollars is, well, $3 billion dollars. Wanna know how much money got put into Virginia’s go-to pool of money for broadband expansion this year? Just under $50 million, earmarked by the General Assembly for the Virginia Telecommunications Iniative (VATI). $3 billion vs. $50 million is like a matchup between Godzilla and the skink that lives on my front porch, running for its life from the cats in the household.

To judge from the news, there’s lots of stuff in the Biden infrastructure plan that could benefit Halifax County specifically — funding for school construction (badly needed), roads and bridges (same), water and sewer system infrastructure (roll over FDR and tell Mark Estes and the Halifax County Service Authority the news) and much else besides. This is all seriously overdue — the last big leap for America’s infrastructure was construction of the interstate system under Dwight D. Eisenhower — and hopefully this plan goes through (and gets renewed a time or two down the road.) Too much to expect in this cramped and crabby time? No — after the pandemic, we need something to give America a big jolt forward. Gun the engines (trains, electric vehicles, earthmoving equipment etc.) and full speed ahead.



Advertising Flyer

Find out how you can reach more customers by advertising with The News & Record and The Mecklenburg Sun -- in print and online.