VB Public Works employee revisits safety petition from 2016 to find mass shooting victim supported it

(Southside Daily/Courtesy of the city of Virginia Beach)
(Southside Daily/Courtesy of the city of Virginia Beach)

VIRGINIA BEACH — Four years ago, Vincent Smith, a city employee in the Public Works engineering department, started a petition to protect employees’ right to carry a firearm in the building he works in — the same building where 12 people were killed by a mass shooter on May 31.

Assigned to the Emergency Operations Center, Smith said he wasn’t in the building that day, but after the tragic event found himself feeling a sense of responsibility to re-visit the old petition that had garnered only about 259 signatures over a year before going “dormant.”

“I still feel a lot of guilt for not continuing my push to change this policy four years ago I feel like there’s more I could’ve done then,” he said. “Had the city chosen to relax their stance on employees carrying weapons on May 30, we would be looking at a very different set of headlines today.”

A human resource policy prohibits city employees to carry firearms to work, but on May 31, a nine-year city employee opened fire inside of Municipal Center Building 2 after sending a resignation email to his supervisor.

Four people were wounded and 12 people killed including 11 city employees and Bert Snelling, a contractor who was in the building seeking a permit — Smith said, “I just stared at it and cried” when he saw Snelling had signed the petition in March 2016.

And since reopening the petition Saturday, the count has gone up to over 1,100 signatures.

And it’s gaining momentum.

“My personal desire would be to hit 10,000 signatures and present it to the council,” Smith said, adding “it does show the public has a voice and an opinion in the matter.”

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While Smith said he and his co-workers are still grieving, three of them spoke in front of City Council in their formal meeting on June 18 to oppose a city resolution allowing localities to ban firearms in city buildings.

“I still have another funeral to go to, but if the council wants to force the issue, we’re not going to not go and speak and oppose these types of things,” he said.

Councilwoman Sabrina Wooten and Councilman Guy King Tower presented the resolution in the meeting to officially support the bill in time for Gov. Ralph Northam’s special session on July 9.

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While Smith and others who opposed the resolution cited the bill infringed on citizens’ Second Amendment rights, Wooten said she supports the Second Amendment “and there is nothing that confirms this resolution will negatively impact it.”

“This resolution would have provided the General Assembly with some direction regarding our position on gun legislation on July 9,” she said.

Even so, Smith said the bill requires a city employee to choose between the right to protect themselves and the right to work.

“The city’s HR policy strips us of that right,” he said. “It forces us as employees to choose between ‘do I want to keep my life’ or, ‘do I want to earn a living,’ and unfortunately those people had to choose on May 31.”

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Smith said he plans to travel to Richmond for the special session to offer methods that haven’t yet been considered like requiring employees who do carry guns to work be held to a certain standard.

“They should be background screened and psychologically screened on a regular schedule,” he said. “There also needs to be some level of training that would include how you would choose to deal with a situation and your proficiency in the weapon you choose to carry.”

Although past security concerns led Smith to start the petition, he said he’s now more focused on “where we go from here.”

“There are people for this and against this but we all have one common goal to be safe,” Smith said. “We just have very different roads on how to get there.”

For more information or to sign Smith’s petition, click here.

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