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- State records show that almost seven times more Virginia minors died from guns than fentanyl from the start of 2017 through September 2022.
- During that span, 355 minors died from guns and 51 from fentanyl.
Firearms or fentanyl? Which causes more child deaths in Virginia? During a recent floor debate, state Sen. Mark Obenshain, R–Rockingham, erroneously claimed it is fentanyl.
Obenshain, an ardent gun rights defender, spoke against a bill sponsored by state Sen. Jennifer Boysko, D–Fairfax, that would require gun owners who live with minors to lock their firearms and ammunition in cabinets or containers. Violators could face a $250 fine.
He was miffed that Democrats were supporting the legislation after voicing concerns about another bill, sponsored by Sen. Bryce Reeves, R–Spotsylvania, that would classify fentanyl as a "weapon of terrorism" — and subject makers or distributors of the synthetic opioid to at least 20 years in prison.
"You know how many children are dying across Virginia because of fentanyl poisoning?" Obenshain asked. "A heck of a lot more than are dying at the hands of firearms."
We asked Obenshain and his office four times for the source of his statistics and did not receive a reply by press time.
Records from the office of Virginia’s chief medical examiner rebut Obenshain's claim, showing that almost seven times more minors died from guns than fentanyl from the start of 2017 through September 2022. During that span, 355 minors died from guns and 51 from fentanyl.
Of those total 51 fentanyl deaths, 40 have been listed as accidental overdoses. And of the 355 gun-related deaths of minors during the last six years, 198 were homicides and 132 were suicides.
State records show the number of minors dying from fentanyl and guns is rising. There were nine deaths from fentanyl in 2020, 13 in 2021, and 21 in last year’s first nine months.
There were 70 gun-related deaths in 2020, 77 in 2021 and 69 in the first three quarters of 2022.
Sixty-five percent of minors who died from fentanyl were 15 to 17 years old. Seventy-two percent who died from gunfire were in that age bracket.
It should be noted that when all Virginians are counted — minors and adults — more died from fentanyl than guns during the last six years. State records show 7,718 fentanyl deaths from the start of 2017 through September 2022, compared with 6,874 gun-related deaths.
Boysko’s SB 1139 to require gun owners who live with minors to lock up their guns passed the Democratic-led Senate on a mostly partisan vote. It might have a tougher time in the Republican-led House of Delegates.
Reeves’s SB 1188 to classify fentanyl as a "weapon of terrorism" has advanced to the Senate floor with a watered-down maximum penalty of 10 years in prison for those who "knowingly" manufacture or distribute the drug.
Obenshain said, "You know how many children are dying across Virginia because of fentanyl poisoning? A heck of a lot more than are dying at the hands of guns."
The senator was wrong. Records from the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner of Virginia show that from the start of 2017 through September 2022, 355 minors had gun-related deaths and 51 died from fentanyl.
We rate Obenshain’s statement False.
Mark Obenshain, state Senate floor speech, Jan. 31, 2023 (1:50:10 mark)
Emails from Rosie Hobron, Statewide Forensic Epidemiologist, Virginia Department of Health. Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, Feb. 2-6, 2023
Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, "Fatal Drug Overdose Quarterly Report," third quarter 2022
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