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Black Stories

State Legislator Spotlight

Black History Month

This Black History Month, we recognize the importance of Black leadership, advocacy, and resilience in the gun violence prevention movement. Throughout February, we’ll be highlighting the important work of Black Americans who are on the front lines of fighting the gun violence crisis in their communities.

Black people in America have faced generations of economic inequity & systemic racism while dealing with a disproportionate impact of gun violence and police violence. As the rest of the country starts to grapple with its historic and current systems of oppression, Black people in the U.S. continue to lead the fight to protect their communities and families. We’re putting a spotlight on some of these Black elected leaders in state legislatures across the country: gun sense champions who are making their communities safer, one piece of policy at a time.

Delegate Vanessa E. Atterbeary, Maryland

Delegate Vanessa E. Atterbeary serves as Vice Chair of the Maryland House Judiciary Committee, Chair of the Public Safety Workgroup, serves on the Family Law Subcommittee and was elected for a second time in 2019 to serve as Chair of the Howard County House Delegation. In the general assembly, she has been successful in passing legislation to keep guns out of the hands of abusers, strengthening prosecutors’ ability to convict sexual predators, increasing circumstances under which a protective order may be granted; and altering how Howard County elects its school board members.

“I fought for the passage of the legislation requiring background checks prior to purchasing long guns; and, legislation ensuring that individuals convicted of domestically related crimes turn in their firearms because smarter and more responsible gun laws can save lives. As an African American woman, mother and legislator, during Black History Month, I am reminded of why my work in Annapolis is so important — my children and your children. I strive to create a Maryland where gun violence is eradicated.”

Del. Jeff Bourne, Virginia

Photo of Del. Jeff Bourne, Virginia

Delegate Jeff Bourne is the chair of the Firearms Subcommittee in the House of Delegates. He also carried the Qualified Immunity bill over the last special session, and this session , and a bill requiring the reporting of lost and stolen firearms in 2020.

“Gun safety is incredibly important to me, and as Chair of the House Firearms subcommittee, I am proud of the legislation we’ve passed in the past two years to keep Virginians safe. The underregulated market of firearms sales fuels gun violence seen daily in far too many communities across Virginia. Last year, I was proud to introduce legislation that requires individuals to report lost or stolen firearms. Requiring this reporting is an important step in drying up this source of guns on our streets. Additionally, when it comes to public safety, people shouldn’t have to worry about being harmed by those charged to protect them. My legislation to end Qualified Immunity in Virginia would have created a much needed layer of police accountability in our Commonwealth. While it did not pass in the General Assembly this year, I will continue to fight for this important piece of legislation.”

Rep. Nnamdi Chukwuocha, Delaware

Rep. Chukwuocha represents the City of Wilmington in the Delaware State House. He has previously cosponsored permit to purchase legislation, expressing support for the impact it would have on his district. Rep. Chukwuocha also chairs the Subcommittee on Public Safety for the African American Task Force, which will aim to tackle gun violence in Delaware, along with other public safety issues.

“I represent a community impacted by gun violence and the Safety & Justice committee is working tirelessly to address the illegal guns in our streets. As a legislator, social worker and poet laureate I just want to save lives.”

Rep. Ed Gainey, Pennsylvania

Photo of Rep. Ed Gainey, Pennsylvania

Rep. Gainey has been an outspoken supporter of gun violence prevention for years. He is a survivor of gun violence, having lost his youngest sister to gun violence.

“Gun violence is an American problem that has to change. There is no need to have assault or semi-automatic weapons on our streets. We must work to ensure that these military-style weapons are banned in America. We must continue to work together to save lives and create a better society.”

Sen. Elizabeth “Tizzy” Lockman, Delaware

Photo of Sen. Elizabeth "Tizzy" Lockman, Delaware

Sen. Lockman is the second Black woman in the Delaware State Senate, and she was elected Majority Whip this session. She plans to be the lead sponsor of permit to purchase legislation this session, recognizing the impact that will have on Wilmington, the community she represents.

“As a legislator, I promised the neighbors that I represent that I would prioritize their fundamental interests of educational and economic opportunity and, crucially underpinning that, of public safety. We face the devastating challenge of gun violence in our communities on a regular basis, particularly impacting our youth and affecting the peace of mind and prospects of all. This is sadly especially true in our historically black neighborhoods, where legendary Delawareans like lawyer Louis Redding made remarkable strides as Black Americans and for Black Americans. I consider it a critical responsibility to take policy action to reduce the proliferation of firearms in our communities in order to save lives, honor our historic legacy and set our citizens up to safely pursue further progress.”

Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, Pennsylvania

Photo of Minority Leader Joanna McClinton, Pennsylvania

Minority Leader McClinton is the first Black woman to be Minority Leader in PA. She represents a community severely impacted by gun violence, and has been an outspoken advocate on gun violence prevention.

“We know that Black legislators are leaders in the fight against gun violence. We have witnessed first-hand the devastation that gun violence creates in our communities, and we’ve felt the pain it causes our friends and family. I recommit myself every day to leading the charge to address gun violence head on, and I will continue to work with Everytown to see our shared goals realized.”

Sen. Zellnor Myrie, New York

Sen. Myrie has introduced a first-of-its-kind state level rollback of PLCAA, focusing on the disparate impact of gun violence in Black communities and the need for accountability for that impact. He is also sponsoring a bill to create a grant fund to support VIP and HVIP programs in New York.

“Honoring Black history means preserving Black futures — the futures of young people and families torn apart by a growing epidemic of gun violence on our streets and in our communities. As Black elected officials, it is our responsibility to fight for the future we want to see. We must finally hold those who profit from violence and death accountable for their irresponsible actions. And we must support those working on the front lines to stop the bloodshed and provide community-based alternatives for our young people.”

Sen. Marie Pinkney, Delaware

Photo of Sen. Marie Pinkney, Delaware

In addition to being a survivor of gun violence and a social worker, Sen. Pinkney is the third Black woman and the first openly LGBTQ Black woman to serve in the Delaware State Senate. She made gun violence prevention a part of her campaign, and her first resolution as a state senator was to declare gun violence a public health crisis. 

“In Delaware, nearly every person has been affected by gun violence in some way, and I am no different. I have lost loved ones to gun violence and seen firsthand the horror of the aftermath of shootings as part of my work as a hospital social worker. That is why I am proud to have sponsored a resolution last month declaring gun violence as a public health crisis. It is time for us to acknowledge the effect gun violence has on the health and safety of communities across our state and country, particularly in communities of color, where Black people continue to be disproportionately affected by this issue.”

Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell, Rhode Island

Rep. Marcia Ranglin-Vassell first ran for office in 2016 on a platform of ending gun violence as one of her main priorities. She was born in Jamaica, and estimates that she has lost more than 40 friends and loved ones to gun violence. She came to the U.S. to escape gun violence in Jamaica, but found it here in America as well. 

“Growing up in a community in Jamaica where everyone was poor, and where gun violence was sadly a part of our lives, I know deeply and intimately the impact of gun violence and poverty on children and families. I am a survivor of gun violence. I know the feeling and the hurt of losing a loved one. The resulting trauma that I live with, as well as my stubborn resolve to fight tooth and nail to end gun violence, exist side by side and within the same mental, physical and emotional space. Ending gun violence is one of the most critical priorities of my personal and political career. I will never stop fighting to dismantle systemic racism, structural poverty and gun violence.”

Representative Attica Scott, Kentucky

Rep. Scott serves Kentucky House District 41 where she is on the Education; Elections, Constitutional Amendments, and Intergovernmental Affairs; and Natural Resources & Energy Committees. In 2014, she helped to pass pivotal legislation on Louisville Metro Council, including a Ban the Box ordinance and the historic minimum wage ordinance, as well as a resolution to restore voting rights to Kentuckians who have served their debt to society. During her tenure on Metro Council, she was a leader in addressing gun violence prevention, and in creating healthier and safer neighborhoods. 

In 2016, Representative Scott defeated a 34-year incumbent to become the first Black woman in nearly 20 years to serve in the state legislature. During her tenure, she has co-sponsored and sponsored legislation to address gun violence. She has also voted against and spoken out against legislation to put more guns in people’s hands.

“We have the power to end gun violence, including police gun violence. We must meet the economic and social needs of our neighbors and stop passing deadly bills that are designed to put more guns in people’s hands.”

Majority Leader Andrea Stewart Cousins, New York 

Majority Leader Stewart Cousins is the first Black woman to lead the New York Senate. She has led her caucus to act on gun violence prevention, giving New York some of the strongest gun laws in the nation.

“The scourge of gun violence has had a devastating effect on all communities, and especially disadvantaged communities and communities of color. Under my leadership, the Senate has made it a top priority to get weapons of war off of the streets and guns out of the hands of dangerous individuals. We have passed historic legislation to advance these goals, and we will continue to fight tirelessly to keep our communities, and our children, safe from gun violence.”

Senator Anthony Williams, Pennsylvania

Senator Williams has introduced and co-sponsored legislation to provide universal background checks, register firearms, require stolen or missing guns to be reported, strengthen red flag laws, and require instant reporting of mental health data to PICS, while working with statewide partners to get additional funding for evidence-based community anti violence initiatives that make a real difference in the lives of young Pennsylvanians. From the governor’s Special Council on Gun Violence to the Joint Local-State Firearm Task Force, he is dedicated to leading and coordinating the effort to ensure the safety of his family, friends, neighbors and constituents.

“At a time when gun violence is once again rampant in our communities, we must increase our efforts to work together, at all levels of government and within our neighborhoods, to act boldly in getting illegal guns off the streets and out of our homes. Families have been torn apart by senseless killings that continue unabated throughout the pandemic.”

Sen. Gary Winfield, Connecticut

Sen. Gary Winfield is the Chair of the Connecticut State Senate Judiciary Committee, and led the Senate floor discussion on car storage, police accountability, ghost guns and Ethan’s Law.

“I’m the chair of the Judiciary Committee. They pull me over, I’m nervous,” he said. “Because I have walked around in this skin for the entirety of my life. That doesn’t mean the officer is bad. It means that what has happened here has led us to a place where I can’t say for sure that I leave that encounter.”

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