RICHMOND — Gun-safety activists reacted angrily on Friday to a deal Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) struck with Republicans to recognize most out-of-state concealed-handgun permits. They fanned out across the Capitol, placed hundreds of calls and wrote to the governor who won office two years ago bragging about his “F” rating from the National Rifle Association.
“Governor McAuliffe should reconsider this dangerous gift to the gun lobby,” said John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, which in the fall poured more than $2 million into two state Senate races at McAuliffe’s request.
The gun agreement, which still needs General Assembly approval, would reverse Democratic Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s decision last month to sever reciprocity rights of gun owners in 25 states with standards looser than Virginia’s.
Herring was conspicuously absent from a bipartisan event heralding the deal. The governor’s office told him that it was in the works about a week ago and kept him updated on negotiations, but Herring was not involved, his spokesman Michael Kelly said.
But the deal nearly fell apart early Friday morning after a senior Republican said on a radio program that the agreement was “a huge expansion of gun rights.”
“When they laid it out to me, I’d make that deal every day of the week and twice on Sunday,” Del. C. Todd Gilbert (R-Shenandoah) said on the Jimmy Barrett Show on Richmond’s WRVA radio. “And then when I saw how folks on the other side of the aisle . . . they’re pretty upset with the governor this morning. That’s a pretty good barometer for me.”
McAuliffe and his secretary of public safety, furious because negotiators had agreed to portray the deal as a win for all sides, told Republicans Friday morning that the deal was off, according to two people close to the negotiations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The deal came back together hours later after each side coughed up one more concession. The gun rights side agreed to raise the penalty for possession of a gun by someone subject to a two-year protective order, upping it from a misdemeanor to a felony. And the gun-safety side agreed to make sure the attorney general, who would be directed by the deal to enter into reciprocity agreements with every state that offers them, moves quickly on the agreement. The plan now would require him to do so within 60 days.
Both sides declined to publicly discuss the last-minute drama. But Sen. Bryce E. Reeves (R-Spotsylvania), credited by many for leading negotiations in recent weeks and salvaging the deal Monday, hinted at the stress when the deal was formally announced on Capitol Square.
“I think I’ve aged 40 years in two weeks,” he told the crowd.
McAuliffe spokesman Brian Coy declined to discuss the last-minute upset, except to say that it ultimately benefited the governor.
“The deal that was struck got stronger than it was yesterday,” he said.
Matthew Moran, spokesman for House Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford), said: “Compromise is a fragile thing. . . . But at the end of the day, we got there.”
Gilbert did not respond to a request for comment, but he spoke contritely at the announcement.
“For those of you who, along with the governor, may have heard me get a little ahead of myself on this issue this morning, I am here to say that I truly believe this to be a genuine compromise in the Virginia way. This is not about winners and losers. . . . It’s about doing the best thing for the commonwealth.”
Despite the swift backlash from gun-control activists, the deal would require gun rights groups to give on a couple fronts. The state could take guns away from anyone under a two-year protective order for domestic-violence offenses. And state police would have to attend all gun shows to provide background checks for private sellers who choose to vet potential buyers.
McAuliffe suggested that those who were upset signaled that he was charting a sensible, middle course.
“When you have the right upset, the left upset,” he said, shrugging as his voice trailed off.
“You have to compromise constantly,” he said. “You do it in business. You do it in politics. You do it in life. This is a big, big win for Virginia.”
Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, the organization’s lobbying arm, issued a statement in support of the deal.
“The National Rifle Association commends leaders in the Commonwealth for moving forward on a bipartisan package that will benefit Virginia citizens,” Cox said.
But gun-safety advocates, who just the week before had rallied on Capitol Square with the governor, described it as a betrayal. Everytown, which is bankrolled by former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, released a letter signed by more than a dozen Virginia shooting victims or their relatives, including those affected by the 2007 Virginia Tech massacre.
Andy Parker, the father of a Roanoke journalist killed on live television in August, had stood beside McAuliffe at the recent rally, cheering Herring’s recent action on guns. On Friday, he silently stood in the back of a Capitol Square meeting room as McAuliffe trumpeted a deal that would reverse Herring’s move.
“I think it’s giving the store away,” Parker told reporters afterward. “It’s not a good deal.”
In the letter that Parker and other gun-safety advocates wrote, they told the governor: “You have been a leader who has shown the greatest courage on this issue and been an inspiration to so many of us. Until today.”
“Perhaps you don’t realize that North Dakota authorities will grant concealed carry permits to people who’ve been convicted of stalking,” the letter continued. “Or that Alabama lacks any training requirements whatsoever in its permitting process. Or that Tennessee allows individuals with numerous assault convictions to acquire permits. Or that Florida does not run a full background check on permit applicants and will issue permits to non-Florida residents — so any nonresident not up to Virginia permitting standards could just apply for a Florida permit through the mail.”