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‘Nobody needs a 100-round magazine’: Va. GOP candidate backs gun control

Moms Demanding Action line up during a rally in the aftermath of the Virginia Beach mass shooting.
Moms Demanding Action line up during a rally in the aftermath of the Virginia Beach mass shooting. (Steve Helber/AP)

RICHMOND — A Republican running for the Virginia House of Delegates is calling for stricter gun control, a message at odds with GOP leadership and virtually every Republican officeholder in the state.

In a TV ad that begins airing Tuesday, Mary Margaret Kastelberg calls for more background checks, limits on magazine size and a “red flag” law that would allow authorities to temporarily take guns away from people deemed a danger to themselves or others.

“Nobody needs a 100-round magazine,” said the first-time candidate who is running for a suburban Richmond seat.

Although a handful of Virginia Republicans expressed support for limited gun control, Kastelberg goes further than any of them, said Lori Haas, state director for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

That’s not to say that Kastelberg goes as far as gun-control advocates like Haas would like. How Kastelberg lines up against her Democratic rival, Rodney Willett, is more complicated, but they both seem to be on the same page on the “red flag” laws.

The two are running for the seat being vacated by freshman Del. Debra H. Rodman (D-Henrico), who is challenging Sen. Siobhan S. Dunnavant (R-Henrico).

Guns have become a marquee issue this year in Virginia, where all 140 seats in the legislature are on the ballot in November. A perennial flash point in a state with rural hunting traditions and a growing urban-suburban population, guns gained special prominence this year after a mass shooting May 31 at a Virginia Beach municipal complex that left 13 dead.

Gov. Ralph Northam (D) called a special legislative session on guns in the aftermath, but Republicans who narrowly control the House and Senate adjourned within 90 minutes without taking up a single bill.

Ahead of the special session, a handful of GOP officeholders backed a measure they called a “red flag” law. But their version would not have allowed authorities to take weapons away from someone deemed a risk. Instead, it would have let them lock up the person — an extension of existing involuntary commitment laws for the mentally ill.

Kastelberg and Willett both support removing guns from individuals, as long as due process protections are in place. Kastelberg noted in particular that she supports a measure championed by a Democrat, Sen. George L. Barker (Fairfax).

Kastelberg is part of a crop of recruits that the GOP cultivated ahead of this year’s pivotal elections to boost its appeal to educated suburban women, who have abandoned the party in droves since President Trump’s election.

A graduate of Princeton University and the University of Virginia’s Darden School of Business, a mother and community volunteer, Kastelberg fit the profile to a T. But like so many other suburban moms, she is worried about gun violence.

Her positions, she said, are “all grounded and rooted in where I am personally, my cumulative life experience.”

By that, she doesn’t just mean the mass shootings like Virginia Beach or the 2007 massacre that killed 32 at Virginia Tech, where her two children are enrolled today. She also means the murder two years ago of a young man who played in Tuckahoe Little League with her son when they were little — and all the suicides that involve guns.

“I’m coming from — just looking at things that might” be helpful, Kastelberg said. “Unfortunately, this is a really complex issue and it’s highly emotionally charged. I don’t believe . . . that any one thing is going to fix all of this. One of the perils that I see is rushing into something with the expectation that, ‘Oh, now we’ve solved the problem and can move on.’ ”

In the ad, Kastelberg looks at the camera and says, “I’ll do what’s right to keep our communities safe. We’ve got to work together to reduce gun violence. That starts with comprehensive background checks and closing the gun show loophole. And nobody needs a 100-round magazine. ‘Red flag’ laws will help take guns out of the hands of the mentally ill before they do harm. As a mother and a delegate, I’ll work to stop gun violence to keep our loved ones safe.”

In an interview, Kastelberg elaborated that by “comprehensive checks,” she means requiring checks on all private or commercial sales. But she would not require checks if someone gives or otherwise “transfers” a gun to another person. That stops short of the “universal” background checks that Willett wants.

Willett also supports a limit on magazine sizes, and he has also called for a measure intended to ensure that gun owners store their firearms in a safe manner, something Kastelberg has not sought.

He called his opponent’s positions “lip service.”

“We’ve seen this kind of political trickery before,” Willett said. “Ms. Kastelberg said nothing when her chief financial backer, Speaker (Kirk) Cox, blocked all gun safety reforms by shutting down the special session on gun violence in 90 minutes. If Ms. Kastelberg is serious about bucking her party, she should return the tens of thousands of dollars in political donations from Mr. Cox.”

Haas said she didn’t find Kastelberg’s stance surprising.

“It’s not surprising in that suburban district that any candidate would be trying to answer the demands of the voters,” Haas said. “I don’t know a suburban woman who doesn’t support stronger gun laws.”

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