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Will Virginia Dems Run On Or From Gun Control This Year?

(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

A new poll in the state of Virginia shows a close race between Democrat nominee Terry McAuliffe and Republican Glenn Youngkin, with McAuliffe holding a two point lead at the moment, well within the poll’s margin of error.

Virginia is one of the few states that will be holding statewide elections this year, which gives the rest of the country a bit of a preview of the issues and messaging that both Republicans and Democrats will be using in next year’s midterms. One big question at the moment is how much attention McAuliffe will give to gun control; in particular, a so-called assault weapons ban that was a legislative priority for current governor Ralph Northam and Democrats in the legislature in 2020, but was put on the shelf by Democrats this year.

In fact, as The Reload’s Stephen Gutowski pointed out, the main sponsor of last year’s gun ban legislation ended up losing his re-election bid this week. Del. Mark Levine touted his support for a gun ban in his campaign, but was soundly defeated by Elizabeth Bennett-Parker in the primary, a Democrat who didn’t mention gun control on her campaign website (though she was endorsed by Moms Demand Action).

Terry McAuliffe, meanwhile, embraced a ban on so-called assault weapons when he declared his candidacy, but has been almost silent on the issue ever since.

Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, who is running for another term at the helm of the state, says that if elected he will push for an assault weapons ban as part of a broader gun control agenda.

McAuliffe, one of five candidates seeking the Democratic nomination, shared his plans for gun control policy on Monday, when gun rights protesters rallied against such measures in downtown Richmond.

Aside from a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, McAuliffe vowed to create an “Office of Gun Violence Prevention” within state government, and to fund a research center within a Virginia university to study gun violence.

“As governor, I will work tirelessly to eliminate these weapons of war from our streets, keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, and keep our communities safe,” McAuliffe said in a statement.

McAuliffe’s gun control plan also includes stricter background check laws, expanding the current requirement for checks on all sales to also include private transfers.

The candidate is also vowing to limit people under 21 from purchasing handguns; explore waiting periods and permits for gun purchases; ban people from openly carrying firearms in certain public spaces; and empower law enforcement to remove firearms from people they encounter who have been convicted of a domestic violence misdemeanor.

That’s a bold anti-gun agenda from McAuliffe, and it provides Republican gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin with a real opening to make the Second Amendment a big part of his general election campaign. In fact, I’d argue that Youngkin can not only solidify support from rural Virginians and suburban Republicans by focusing on McAuliffe’s gun ban plans and other restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms, but can make real inroads among independent voters as well.

According to the new poll from WPA Intelligence, Youngkin leads unaffiliated voters by a single point at the moment, in large part because of McAuliffe’s high unfavorable ratings. Youngkin can and should exploit those negative feelings that many voters have towards the Democratic nominee by hammering him on crime and the Second Amendment.

The messaging should be simple: At a time of rising crime rates, McAuliffe wants to protect criminals and crack down on Virginians exercising their Second Amendment rights. Youngkin, on the other hand, wants to protect the right of self-defense and ensure that criminals face consequences for their actions.

Youngkin needs to hammer on the fact that while McAuliffe claims to be a champion of criminal justice reform, he actually wants to create new crimes out of the Second Amendment; prosecuting people for owning AR-15s, buying a pistol before they turn 21, and possessing a firearm without a government-issued permission slip among others. Given the fact that the vast majority of counties in Virginia have adopted Second Amendment Sanctuary policies, it’s primarily going to be residents of Democrat-controlled cities and counties who’ll feel the impact of McAuliffe’s anti-gun agenda, and these are also the parts of the state that are seeing the biggest rise in violent crime at the moment.

McAuliffe doesn’t seem to want to focus on his gun control plans, and other Democrats running for office are also playing down their support for new restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms, so it’s up to Youngkin to make them an issue. Terry McAuliffe’s embrace of an extreme anti-gun agenda can work to Youngkin’s advantage, as long as the Republican is willing to make it an issue. It would be a mistake on the part of the GOP to give McAuliffe a pass on his support for a gun ban and other 2A infringements, particularly at a time when more Americans (Virginians included) are embracing their right to keep and bear arms for the very first time.

Aug 03, 2021 9:30 PM ET
Aug 03, 2021 4:30 PM ET