AP Photo/ Cheryl Senter

Michael Bloomberg’s Everytown For Gun Safety says it will spend more than $2-million in this fall’s Virginia elections, starting with a $135,000 ad buy targeting Republican lawmakers in several suburban districts around the state, including northern Virginia, Richmond, and the Virginia Beach area.

“Everytown has launched our most robust electoral program ever for Virginia, and we have one simple goal: Hold gun lobby lawmakers accountable for their choices,” John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, said via email.

The strategy highlights the route that Democrats feel they can take to win control of the legislature this fall, when all 140 seats are up for election. In an off-off year, with no presidential or gubernatorial races on the ticket to drive turnout, Democrats have to stir up voter interest in close suburban districts that have been trending blue.

“Stir up interest” means “scare suburban moms” in this case. Oh, and according to the message testing that Everytown’s conducted, “stir up interest” also means “attack Republican lawmakers”.

The message-testing was conducted in suburban areas at the end of July and beginning of August – before the mass shootings in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, that inflamed the topic nationwide. Voters were also given statements that questioned Republican records on health care, the environment and taxes, the group said, and gun control was among the most persuasive.

Specifically, the Everytown poll found a positive reaction to the idea of “red flag” laws, which allow authorities to temporarily seize guns from someone deemed a threat to themselves or others. The group said it also believes Virginians oppose the way Republicans handled the special legislative session on gun control.

It has created two digital ads on those themes: one saying GOP lawmakers “chose the NRA over Virginians’ safety,” the other saying they refused “to take action to prevent gun deaths.”

Both attack lines are nonsense, of course. I was at the special session called by Governor Ralph Northam in an attempt to push gun control, and there were hundreds of Virginia gun owners on hand to talk to their lawmakers about opposing Northam’s gun control laws. The NRA had a representative on hand, but so did gun control groups. As for claiming that Republicans refused to “take action to prevent gun deaths”, not a single proposal offered by Northam and Democrats would have prevented the attack in Virginia Beach.

The Virginia Crime Commission, which met this week to consider Northam’s gun control proposals as well as other ways to address gun violence actually provided a substantive discussion and debate on these measures, which wasn’t going to happen in a special session meant to ram anti-gun bills through the legislature. More importantly, the VCC considered several proposals that would effectively address gang violence and suicide, which are the chief causes of “gun violence” in the state, and would do so without putting any new gun control laws on the books.

Republicans, meanwhile, say gun control isn’t the winning issue Bloomberg and Everytown thinks it is.

“It’s not surprising – I mean, Everytown comes in every single year [since 2011],” said John Findlay, executive director of the Republican Party of Virginia. “If the gun issue was as potent as Everytown thinks it is, we would’ve had Democrat majorities in the House and Senate for the past eight years.”

The trouble is that gun control advocates only need to pick off a few candidates in order to enact their agenda. Right now the Virginia state Senate has a one-vote pro-gun majority, and a three-vote majority in the state Assembly. Currently gun control groups are targeting about a dozen legislative seats around the state, and they don’t have to flip every one in order to declare victory. Legislative re-districting will make defending a few of these seats even harder, and Del. Nick Freitas is having to run a write-in campaign after a snafu resulted in his name being left off the ballot.

Virginia is a testing ground for gun control groups to try out their messaging, spend lots of money promoting their anti-gun candidates, and try to win enough legislative seats to enact their agenda in the next session. The on-the-ground efforts of groups like Everytown and Moms Demand Action in Virginia this year will be replicated in battleground districts across the country in 2020, so even if you’re not a Virginia gun owner, it’s worth paying attention and getting involved in this fall’s elections. What happens in the Old Dominion in 2019 could have a big impact on your 2nd Amendment rights in 2020.