Virginia’s state elections will be held on November 5th of this year, and every seat in the state legislature is up for election. Gun control activists are already pouring hundreds of thousands of dollars into 15 legislative districts, primarily in the D.C., Virginia Beach, and Richmond suburbs. Gun control activists don’t have to win every one in order to take over the legislature either. Gains of just a handful of seats in each chamber would result in anti-gun legislative majorities to go along with an anti-gun governor and state attorney general.
Democrats have been trying to make gun control a big issue in this year’s campaign, accusing Republicans who don’t support Governor Ralph Northam’s gun control package of caring more about guns than children, and being tools of the “gun lobby” instead of representing their constitutents. Republicans pushed back on that smear, and have actually offered substantive legislation to empower cities to tackle gang violence, but have yet to attract any Democrat co-sponsors. A few Republicans in those contested suburban districts have brought up their support for “red flag” laws, and Mary Margaret Kastleberg, who’s running as a Republican for a seat outside of Richmond, has endorsed “universal background checks” and a ban on magazines as well.
Now, columnist Dave Ress of the Daily Press reports that Republican Sen. Tommy Norment, who’s also the Senate Majority Leader, is hinting that gun control may be coming regardless of what party controls the legislature after November’s elections.
Well, said Norment, you’ve seen plenty of legislative proposals that reached far — excessively far, deliberately far — as a vehicle for a narrower bill that people can agree on eventually.
He had, he added, been hearing from law enforcement about the idea of some sort of ban — like the one that already applies in courthouses — after the mass shooting at the Virginia Beach municipal center.
But some members of his caucus balked.
Then, after a shrug, Norment pointed out something, but only after saying he would have to watch what he said very carefully. And what he said was this: It’s going to be lot easier to talk about guns after Election Day.
As a Virginia gun owner and voter, my first reaction to this was… well, unprintable, to be honest. But to be fair, as much as I don’t like hearing it from the Senate Majority Leader, he’s not entirely wrong. Removed from the daily attack ads and trying to ensure your base turns out by playing to it, it probably will be easier for politicians on both sides to talk about guns after Election Day. I don’t know about “a lot” however, because I think that there are still some fundamental divides between the two sides. Most Democrats believe we can ban our way to safety, that there are too many guns in the hands of too many Americans, and we need to treat the right to keep and bear arms like a privilege. Most Republicans believe we need to treat the right with same respect given every other individual right, that we don’t address violent crime by criminalizing non-violent gun ownership, and that we need to focus on the criminal justice and mental health systems to address violent offenders and those most at risk for harming themselves or others. There’s really not a lot of middle ground to be found there.
It’s obviously possible to read Norment’s comment as a suggestion that Republicans are simply posturing for the base, and enough will support some of Governor Northam’s gun control proposals in the post-election session of the legislature to ensure passage. I cannot overestimate what a disaster for the Republican party that would be. I know politicians focus on the current election, not the next one, but if Republicans campaign on support for the 2nd Amendment, and then turn around and support some of Northam’s gun control proposals, the damage to support from gun owners will last several election cycles. Don’t lie to gun owners, even if you think the truth will cause some gun owners to stay home come Election Day. As a Virginia voter, I’d much rather honestly disagree about an issue than find out a candidate lied to get my support.
I’d encourage these Republicans who have a newfound appreciation for some gun control proposals to remember why they opposed them just a few short months ago. You should still be just as concerned about an erosion of a constitutional right today as you were on January 1st of this year. And these gun control proposals are just as ineffective, unenforceable, and/or unconstitutional today as they were when they were first introduced in the legislature earlier this year. Your constituents may be demanding you “do something”, but if you want to be a leader, not just a politician, you’ll do something that actually works, not something that may poll well.