WASHINGTON, DC (WRIC) — Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine gave an emotional speech on the floor of the U.S. Senate on Wednesday, calling on Congress to take action on gun control in the wake of a school shooting in Texas that left 19 elementary-schoolers and 2 teachers dead.
Kaine previously served as governor of Virginia from 2006 to 2010. During his term, Virginia saw what was at the time the deadliest mass shooting in U.S. history at Virginia Tech.
In his speech on the Senate floor, Kaine talked about landing in Japan as part of a trade delegation when the news broke and jumping on a return flight less than an hour later. The sight of the slain students in those classrooms, he said, would stay with him forever.
“On each body a cell phone ringing because a parent had seen it on television and wanted to call to make sure it wasn’t one of their children who had been killed,” he said. “And my law enforcement officers talked about how those rings that would never be answered just haunted them. Haunted them.”
At the time, Kaine said, his efforts to introduce gun control legislation in Virginia met fierce resistance — and legislation like comprehensive background checks and purchase limits wouldn’t be adopted until 2019, when former governor Ralph Northam signed a slate of gun legislation into law. Kaine, meanwhile, had moved into the U.S. Senate by 2019, where he unsuccessfully advocated for the same measures on the federal level.
Kaine said that inaction on the federal level makes every new mass shooting acutely painful for him, “It is compounded by a realization that here in this body we’ve done nothing.”
Kaine, a Catholic who attends a church in Richmond with his wife, then invoked a quote from Pope Francis calling on the faithful to be “islas de misericordia en el medio de un mar de indifferencia” — islands of mercy in a sea of indifference.
“If we assess why the Senate, this great deliberative body, has been unwilling to act for fifteen years,” Kaine said. “I don’t think it’s cruelty or evil — it’s indifference.”
But Kaine ended his speech on a hopeful note, saying that Virginia’s gun legislation, passed under Ralph Northam, should be a national model.
“If we can make progress on this issue in Virginia — headquarters of the NRA — we can make progress in the U.S. Senate,” he said.