John Feinblatt is president of Everytown for Gun Safety.
Politics is about choices, and today Republicans in the Virginia General Assembly chose a familiar response to the mass shooting in Virginia Beach: Complete and utter inaction.
They chose not to act on a plan from Gov. Ralph Northam (D) to enact common-sense measures such as universal background checks, an extreme-risk law and an assault weapons ban that would keep guns away from people with dangerous histories.
They chose to do nothing in the face of a gun violence crisis that kills nearly 1,000 Virginians every year.
They chose to pass the buck on gun suicide, which claims one Virginian every 14 hours.
They chose to disregard the wishes of the bipartisan majority of Virginians who favor stronger gun laws.
In short, Virginia’s Republican lawmakers chose to again put the interests of the National Rifle Association ahead of public safety.
That is their prerogative. But soon, the people of Virginia will have a choice.
Less than four months from now, the entire House of Delegates and state Senate will be up for election. Maybe some of the lawmakers who voted against gun safety today are betting the NRA will return the favor and have their backs on the campaign trail. If so, these lawmakers haven’t been paying attention.
For years, the NRA has treated the state Capitol in Richmond as an extension of its Fairfax headquarters. It’s a testament to the organization’s power that 12 years after the Virginia Tech shooting, lawmakers have yet to pass any meaningful gun safety laws.
But the NRA’s vise grip on the commonwealth is loosening. Back in 2017, the NRA put all its muscle behind Republican Ed Gillespie’s run for governor — and lost. Post-election polling found that earning the NRA’s “A” rating hurt Gillespie by a 2-to-1 margin with voters. The NRA has also seen its power in the General Assembly shrink, with Republicans clinging to a thin two-seat majority in each chamber.
The fundamental reason the NRA keeps losing is simple: Its extreme “guns everywhere” agenda is out of step with the American people. But NRA leaders are digging themselves into an even deeper hole with a long and growing list of scandals. These include extensive accusations of financial mismanagement and enrichment, the sentencing of a purported lifetime member as an agent of the Russian government, the ouster of its president and resignation of its top lobbyist and multiple government investigations. It’s now clear the NRA isn’t an advocacy organization — it’s a business run amok.
Even as the NRA is growing weaker, the gun-safety movement is growing stronger — especially in Virginia. In the 2018 midterm elections, commonwealth voters helped send a gun-sense majority to the House of Representatives, electing three candidates who ran on gun safety: Jennifer Wexton, Abigail Spanberger and Elaine Luria. Now Everytown for Gun Safety is working hard with our local Moms Demand Action and gun violence survivor volunteers to build on that momentum and send a gun-sense majority to the Virginia General Assembly on Nov. 5.
Our strategy is simple: Ask Virginians whether they want lawmakers who will do the NRA’s bidding or honor the victims and survivors of gun violence with action. Republican lawmakers just made their choice. Now the power lies with the people.