RICHMOND — The surprise battle between Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and the gun-control organization founded by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg escalated Tuesday to include a full-page newspaper ad skewering the governor’s rationale for a gun deal with Republicans.
As recently as November, New York-based Everytown for Gun Safety was pouring $2 million into McAuliffe’s ultimately failed effort to help Democrats take control of the state Senate. On Tuesday, 12 days after McAuliffe announced a deal on gun laws with Republican legislators, the group bought an ad in the Richmond Times-Dispatch with this blunt headline: “Terry McAuliffe is wrong.”
The ad quotes several of the governor’s statements about the gun deal, declaring each one “false” and providing a detailed analysis to back up that conclusion.
Words that Everytown takes exception to are marked in red ink, as a teacher might when grading a test.
McAuliffe dismissed the criticism during an appearance in Northern Virginia, saying “everybody supports [the gun deal] except one gun-safety group out of New York City.”
It was an awkward line of attack for McAuliffe, a native of Syracuse, N.Y., and a close friend of Bill and Hillary Clinton who has relied heavily on out-of-state money to fund his governor’s race, political action committee and the state Democratic Party.
More than half of the money the party pulled in for state races last year came from a single donor, Philip Munger — the son of a Berkshire Hathaway billionaire and resident of New York.
The governor’s statement further alienated him from activists in the Virginia chapter of Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, an Everytown affiliate whose volunteers knocked on doors and held rallies for McAuliffe’s allies last fall.
“I’m so angry at the governor for his comments,” said Jennifer Herrera, the volunteer leader of the state’s Moms affiliate.
“We are Virginians, and we are the people doing the work. So to hear him repeat this line that it’s this outside group — we have met you. You’ve stood with our survivors. You’ve been at our events.”
McAuliffe’s spokesman first referred to Everytown as a “group from New York” on Friday after it unfurled a pointed social media campaign against the governor.
But Tuesday marked the first time that McAuliffe personally characterized Everytown as an outsider group meddling in Virginia politics.
The bitter back-and-forth stems from the deal that McAuliffe’s administration quietly hammered out with the National Rifle Association and Sen. Bryce E. Reeves (R-Spotsylvania).
The resulting legislation, now making its way through the Republican-controlled General Assembly, would expand the rights of concealed-carry handgun permit holders in Virginia and across the country in exchange for tighter restrictions on gun ownership by domestic abusers and voluntary background checks at gun shows.
Everytown’s ad in the Times-Dispatch lays out a detailed analysis of McAuliffe’s statements about the bill, complete with footnotes.
“I am shutting down the gun show loophole,” it quotes McAuliffe saying.
“Fact: False. The Governor’s bill does not close the gun show loophole. The Governor’s bill allows for voluntary background checks at gun shows. But voluntary background checks already exist. The ATF [Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco Firearms and Explosives] has made clear that any private seller who wants to run a background check, whether at a gun show or anywhere else, can simply ask a dealer to do the check.”
Brian Moran, McAuliffe’s secretary of public safety and homeland security, called that criticism “disingenuous.” He said the governor had actually claimed that the deal was “a first step” toward closing the gun show loophole.
Moran acknowledged that under federal law, private sellers already can have a background check performed through a licensed dealer. But he said it is much simpler to have the state police run the check for the private seller, as the deal would allow.
“The dealer has to take [the gun] into their inventory” when running a check for a private seller, he said. “It’s a far-more-complicated process.”
The ad also quotes McAuliffe as saying that under the bill, someone who is subject to a permanent protective order will be required to “surrender their firearms.” It deems that statement false as well, noting that the bill “contains no explicit requirement that abusers surrender their guns, no procedure for surrender and no mechanism to confirm relinquishment.”
The bill calls for the guns to be sold or given away within 24 hours but does not require that the weapons be surrendered to law enforcement.
Everytown officials said guns could be given to friends or relatives, from whom they might easily be reclaimed.
Moran said that a surrender provision would burden public agencies required to accept and store the weapons. “Police don’t want the guns. The sheriffs don’t want the guns — don’t want the liability,” he said.
In a guest column Sunday in the Virginian-Pilot, Moran noted that failure to comply with the requirement to get rid of a gun would be a felony, punishable by five years in prison and permanent loss of firearms rights.
“If this guy still has it in 24 hours, he can be convicted of a felony,” he said in an interview Monday night. “That’s quite an incentive.”
Patricia Sullivan contributed to this report.