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At NRA gathering in Texas, Winsome Sears says guns aren’t the problem

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears at the Virginia Capitol on Jan. 17, 2022, in Richmond. (Steve Helber/AP)

RICHMOND — Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears (R) offered a full-throated defense of gun rights Friday at a National Rifle Association meeting in Texas, acknowledging the horror of this week’s shooting at a Uvalde elementary school but blaming it on a range of social factors from lack of prayer in schools to “emasculated” men and pandemic safety protocols.

Earle-Sears, who drew national attention during last year’s election campaign by appearing in ads with an assault-style rifle strapped across her dress, gave a keynote speech for a women’s lunch at the NRA’s annual conference in Houston. Several public figures have backed out of the NRA event in the wake of the horrific shooting, in which 19 children and two teachers were killed.

But Earle-Sears was defiant about attending.

“They did not want me to come, thinking you are monsters, that you are culpable in the murder of the children,” she said, according to a written copy of her remarks provided by her office. Reporters were not allowed to cover the event.

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“As you all know, the NRA was first established by Union veterans,” continued Earle-Sears, who is Black. “I look at you, and I see mothers, daughters, sisters, and grandmothers, YOU are the NRA. People. You are not this nebulous entity. How far we have fallen that we have labeled you monsters, our fellow law-abiding Americans.”

Democrats were quick to condemn the appearance.

“How about instead of pandering to the @NRA & the far right today, maybe get back to Virginia and focus on how we stop these mass murders for good?” tweeted Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney, whose city is struggling with gun violence. “Enough is enough. Do your damn job.”

Speaking Friday on a call with reporters, several Democrats demanded that Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) say whether he supports Earle-Sears’s remarks.

“After the three recent shootings in Buffalo, Laguna [Woods] and in Texas, the Governor has failed to address the underlying issue and refuses to have any discussion about the root of the problem — the incredibly easy access to guns,” state Sen. Jeremy S. McPike (D-Prince William) said in a news release.

Youngkin’s office did not directly respond, but issued a statement expressing sympathy for the families of shooting victims and saying that the governor had assembled education, health and public safety secretaries to ensure that they are protecting Virginia schools.

“The governor has been working on getting more school resource officers into the school[s] since last year and making sure parents can be confident in their child’s safety on school premises,” Youngkin spokeswoman Macaulay Porter said via text message.

Del. Elizabeth R. Guzman (D-Prince William) noted that most of the victims in the Uvalde shooting were Latino. “My people are hurting, our wounds have been reopened and the grief cuts deeper,” she said on the call with reporters. The Earle-Sears speech, she added, “is a slap in the face to the victims and the Latino community.”

In her remarks, Earle-Sears lamented the shooting at Robb Elementary School, quoting the Bible’s book of Jeremiah about Rachel weeping for her children. “This should not have happened again,” Earle-Sears said.

She characterized America as “in a battle for her children,” and said the country weeps for social ills, from “the breakdown of the family” to “fatherless homes,” from “lack of respect for fellow men” to “countless Black men murdering each other” and “the onslaught against the liberty of thought and expression.”

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Earle-Sears, who has operated a prison ministry and often speaks in the tones of a preacher, warned that “America is running headlong into a dangerous abyss.” She claimed that demonstrators are disrupting church services and babies are being aborted up until the moment of birth. Even language has deteriorated, she said, “such that F-bombs and even the startling MF bombs are spoken across our airways.”

These and other ills are plaguing the nation, she said, “Because we took prayer out of schools. We have so liberated our sexuality, that we are now informed that men can have abortions.”

Society frees its criminals so they can pillage and plunder “in the name of social justice,” she said, and meanwhile fails to teach children to read. Mental health is deteriorating, worsened by “covid protocols.” Fathers are not present because “we have emasculated our men,” she said.

Earle-Sears considered citing personal experience to make the case that it’s mental illness, not gun policy, that poses a threat to public safety, according to an adviser who spoke on the condition of anonymity to share private deliberations. A grown daughter of hers with bipolar disorder — off her medication and driving at what police described as “an excessive rate of speed” — died in a car wreck in 2012 that also killed Earle-Sears’s two young granddaughters.

She ultimately opted against an explicit reference to it.

“We are told that guns are the problem but … a determined mentally unstable person will try to find other means to their wicked deed — whether with a car, molotov cocktail, or some other means,” she said.

Earle-Sears listed principles she supports to make things better, including a strong Second Amendment, better mental health services and stronger security in schools. And, she said, “Churches and communities need to step up. More government action cannot be the only answer.”

Despite her apocalyptic characterization of a nation on the brink, Earle-Sears said she is ultimately optimistic.

“We will endure. For the sake of our children’s children. Our children will not just survive, they will thrive. Because we will leave it better than we found it. Our children are depending on us. There is no other refuge like America,” she said.

Antonio Olivo contributed to this report.