The national gun debate is coming to Southwest Virginia. Several family members of Virginia Tech and Newtown shooting victims will spend all day Friday in Blacksburg making their push for universal background checks.
It's part of the "No More Names National Drive to Reduce Violence" bus tour, which is visiting 25 states in 100 days. The tour is being sponsored by a group called Mayors Against Illegal Guns, which is chaired by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Boston Mayor Thomas Menino.
At each stop they organize a rally, then read the names of victims of gun violence for 12 hours. The event in Blacksburg will take place at Marcia Park (200 Clay St. SW) starting at 9:00am.
Family members of Virginia Tech and Newtown victims involved with the tour, like Uma Loganathan, say they're doing it to show their support for universal background checks. Loganathan's father G.V. was killed during the April 16th shootings at Virginia Tech. She says she strongly supports responsible gun owners, but believes background checks need to be expanded to prevent criminals or people with mental problems from being able to purchase guns.
The Virginia Tech shooter passed two background checks because at the time the state did not submit his mentally ill status to the database.
"Nobody should have to go through what I'm going through," said Loganathan. "I watch my mom and my sister everyday struggle because we have a missing hole in our lives. And we've had to shape our lives around this missing hole because somebody got their hands on a gun who shouldn't have been able to get their hands on a gun in the first place."
Currently, only guns sold by federally licensed dealers are subject to background checks. Supporters of universal checks say private sales at gun shows, on the internet, and at flea markets need to have the same requirements.
"I'm not saying people have to agree with me," said Loganathan. "I'm just hoping that they will engage in the discussion and think about the topic and discuss the topic. I think just by doing that, we can come up with a better solution than what we have right now. Because the system that we have right now is not working."
Gun rights advocacy groups like the National Rifle Association have said they do not support universal background checks. They point out that more than 1 million applications for gun permits or transfers have been denied under the current background check system.
On its website, the NRA argues that criminals won't take legal routes to get their hands on guns, so expanded checks won't have an impact. The group also suggests that universal checks could be a stepping stone for a national gun registry down the road.