“These are scary times,” said Giffords (D-Ariz.), who suffered a brain injury in a shooting in Tucson in 2011.
She attended the rally along with former Virginia governor Terry McAuliffe (D) and about a half-dozen Democrats being endorsed by her pro-gun-control organization, the Giffords group.
“Now is the time to come together and be responsible, Democrats and Republicans,” Giffords said. “We must never stop fighting.”
McAuliffe was more pointed, saying the NRA’s presence in Fairfax County is “a disgrace to the Commonwealth of Virginia.”
“If you don’t like our bills, you can move your headquarters somewhere else,” the former governor said, addressing NRA chief executive Wayne LaPierre.
An NRA spokesperson did not immediately return a request for comment.
Democrats are seeking to overcome narrow Republican majorities in the House of Delegates and the Senate this fall. It is the only election in the country this year where control of the state legislature is at stake.
They see a path to victory in highlighting the NRA-friendly stances taken by GOP lawmakers in Richmond in the wake of several mass shootings around the country, including one in Virginia Beach in May in which 12 people were killed.
The Giffords group is supporting 41 Democratic candidates across the state, with plans to pour money into key races and canvass those areas for votes.
Everytown for Gun Safety — another national group, started by billionaire former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg — is backing 25 Democrats in Virginia, targeting Republican incumbents in suburban swing districts with a $2.5 million advertising blitz in Northern Virginia, Richmond and the Hampton Roads area.
On the opposite side, the NRA — which has been embroiled in internal controversy and leadership battles as of late — recently donated $200,000 to the political action committee of House Majority Leader Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah). It was by far the organization’s largest one-time contribution in Virginia in at least the past 20 years, according to the nonpartisan Virginia Public Access Project.
“My guess is that this is going to become an animating issue in the closing weeks of several of these races,” said Quentin Kidd, director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University.
A recent Washington Post-ABC News poll found that a vast majority of the country — including political independents and women who could play vital roles in upcoming elections — strongly supports gun-control measures such as background checks. Republican elected officials have general opposed such legislation.
In July, Virginia Republicans abruptly ended a special legislative session focused on gun bills — convened by Gov. Ralph Northam (D) in the wake of the Virginia Beach shooting — without considering a single bill.
The GOP lawmakers referred more than 60 pieces of legislation to the State Crime Commission, which heard testimony from experts and presentations from the bill’s sponsors. Garren Shipley, a spokesman for Gilbert, said Republicans are waiting for recommendations from the commission before taking action.
“Today, our children, because of the cowardice of the people in our legislature, have to practice drills to learn how hide from gun violence in their classroom,” Del. Kathleen J. Murphy (D-Fairfax) said Friday. “It’s a disgrace.”
With corporations also calling for a debate on gun control, some Republicans in Virginia have adopted a softer stance. Mary Margaret Kastelberg, who is running for a Richmond-area House seat, called this week for 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.
Last month, Del. Tim Hugo (R-Fairfax), who is locked in a high-profile race against Democrat Dan Helmer in the only GOP-held House district in increasingly blue Northern Virginia, expressed his support for a “red flag” bill.
“When you start getting Republican candidates, who are supported and endorsed by the Republican Party, advocating for gun control, that’s a sure sign that the electorate is pretty solidly aligned on the issue,” Kidd said. “And, candidates, whether Democrat or Republican, are starting to pick up on that.”
Sen. Amanda F. Chase (R-Chesterfield), a staunch advocate for increasing the rights of gun owners, tweeted a photo of herself at the shooting range Friday. The caption read: “I’m not afraid to shoot down gun groups,” and was later amended to “anti-gun groups,” according to Chase’s campaign spokesman Philip Search.
The post was widely circulated by Democrats expressing outrage.
“Universal background checks? We should know who we’re giving guns to,” said Senate Minority Leader Richard L. Saslaw (D-Fairfax). “You gotta be 21 to drink, you ought to be 21 to buy a gun, for God’s sake.”
Del. Hala S. Ayala (D-Prince William), who is in a competitive race with former Del. Rich Anderson (R-Prince William), told the group that gun violence took the life of her father, who was shot by his brother in the 1970s in Washington.
“I was 2 years old,” Ayala said. “This is how gun violence affects families.”