McAuliffe, Youngkin Avoid Gun Talk In Gubernatorial Debate

(AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

Gun control wasn’t a big issue in the first debate between Virginia’s gubernatorial candidates on Thursday evening, even though Republican Glenn Younkin and Democrat Terry McAuliffe did spar over rising crime, public safety, and police funding.

At the Appalachian School of Law in Grundy, McAuliffe repeatedly bragged about having the lowest crime rate in the United States when he was governor, with Youngkin responding that the state’s homicide rate increased by more than 40% while McAuliffe was in charge. I watched the debate live, and I have to say that I was frustrated that Youngkin didn’t use the talk about crime to bring up the fact that Virginia has been one of the safest states in the country without the gun and magazine bans that Terry McAuliffe now wants to put in place.

It felt like a wasted opportunity for Youngkin, who did point out on a couple of occasions that Virginia’s crime rate is soaring, with several cities in the state have become some of the most dangerous in the nation since the state has fallen under complete Democratic control of state government. Yet while he acknowledged that Virginians are less safe than they were just a couple of years ago, he never mentioned McAuliffe’s gun ban plan or touted his own support for the right of self-defense and the right to keep and bear arms.

Why have so many Virginians purchased firearms over the past 18 months or so? For many of them, it’s precisely because of the rising crime rate and their concerns about the safety of themselves and their loved ones. These two issues are intimately connected, and I believe that Youngkin could have scored a couple of easy points against McAuliffe by pointing out that his plan to reduce violent crime is predicated on the idea of restricting the rights of legal gun owners.

For his part, McAuliffe was virtually silent about his anti-gun plans. He never brought up his call to ban the sale of “assault weapons” and “high capacity” magazines, and certainly didn’t tout the support of gun control sugar daddy Michael Bloomberg and his group Everytown for Gun Safety, which has pledged to spend nearly $2-million in the state’s elections this November.

It wasn’t just the candidates who avoided gun control. The moderators seemed uninterested in the issue as well. For instance, Youngkin was asked if he would sign a Texas-style anti-abortion bill that empowered citizens to sue abortion providers in civil court if they perform an abortion after a heartbeat has been detected (Youngkin said no). He wasn’t, however, asked about Texas’ new Constitutional Carry law.

McAuliffe was also spared any questions about his gun ban plans and his desire to criminalize the transfer of a firearm without a background check, which would expand the state’s current gun control law that mandates all gun sales go through a check but allows loans or gifts to take place without one being conducted.

Given the fact that this is the first gubernatorial election since Democrats took control of the state legislature in 2019 and immediately began attacking the Second Amendment rights of residents, I would have expected to hear at least one question about gun control Thursday evening. It’s clearly an important issue for many Virginians, given the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement that swept across the state less than two years ago, but it was a complete nullity during the first debate. I think that’s a mistake on Youngkin’s part, and one that I hope his campaign will correct when the second and final gubernatorial debate takes place in the D.C. suburbs of Fairfax County in a couple of weeks.

I would encourage the Republican candidate not to run away from a debate over gun control, but to lean in to it. When McAuliffe touts the low crime rate during his term as governor, Youngkin should hammer home the fact that we can be a safe state without infringing on the rights of residents. When McAuliffe talks about wanting to expand parole, Youngkin should mention the fact that the Democrat wants to ban the possession of “high capacity” magazines, which could turn hundreds of thousands of residents into criminals. McAuliffe has said he wants to “make life difficult” for people who don’t get a COVID vaccine, but Youngkin needs to remind voters that McAuliffe wants to do the same for all those exercising their Second Amendment rights. Youngkin wants to paint McAuliffe as an extremist, and one of the best ways to do so is to point to his positions on gun control and the right to bear arms.