Chris Kopacki is the NRA Institute for Legislative Action Virginia state director.
Our Second Amendment freedoms in Virginia are intact today because of the hard work of the hundreds of thousands of Virginians who stood up to the Bloomberg gun-control lobby. Our freedoms are safe for another day because Second Amendment supporters made their voices heard and lawmakers listened. Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam (D) underestimated voters’ ability to see through his political ruse. They understood the special session was a $45,000 taxpayer-funded distraction from the allegations of racism and sexual assault that hang over the Northam administration.
Virginians understand that not a single one of Northam’s misguided proposals would have prevented the tragedy in Virginia Beach. Law-abiding gun owners in the commonwealth are tired of being blamed for the acts of deranged criminals and are demanding real solutions to crime.
It is also wrong to blame the National Rifle Association and our members for these acts. The NRA has a long history of working to reduce violent crime rates in Virginia. We know that focusing on putting violent criminals behind bars and reforming our mental health system works. About 25 years ago, Richmond held the dubious distinction of having one of the highest murder rates in the nation. That changed under Project Exile, a program in which federal authorities aggressively prosecuted armed criminals. The results were immediate and dramatic. Project Exile resulted in a 45 percent decline in homicides and a 30 percent decline in armed robberies in just one year. Enforcement — coupled with public awareness campaigns — works. Let’s focus on enforcing the laws already on the books instead of passing new laws for criminals to ignore. Gun control only makes it harder for the honest, hard-working citizens to protect and defend themselves.
After the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007, the NRA worked closely with lawmakers to pass much-needed improvements to our nation’s mental health system to ensure those who are dangerously mentally ill don’t have access to firearms. The reforms improved state reporting to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System (NICS) to stop gun purchases by people, including criminals and those adjudicated as mentally defective, who are prohibited from possessing firearms. The law also provided millions in federal funding to states so that they could automate their systems and supply accurate information to the NICS.
In the run up to Northam’s special session, gun-rights supporters turned out in overwhelming numbers to a series of standing-room-only town hall meetings hosted by the NRA. Second Amendment voters are among the commonwealth’s most informed and engaged voters. Contrary to the political spin coming from the Bloomberg gun-control lobby, the NRA’s greatest source of strength and influence is the hundreds of thousands of Virginians who support their constitutional right to self-defense and consistently vote on this issue.
Four years ago, former New York mayor Michael Bloomberg’s allies claimed they were poised to deliver their first pro-gun control electoral victory in the state. Voters rejected their agenda, and 92 percent of NRA-backed candidates won on Election Day. One of the few Bloomberg-backed candidates to win election that year was Jeremy McPike in Senate District 29. Bloomberg dumped more than $1 million into McPike’s campaign, but, strangely, the ads were mostly silent on gun control. In the Senate District 10 race, Bloomberg paid for nearly a million-dollar ad campaign featuring the grieving father of a crime victim. Bloomberg’s gun-control ad was so distasteful that it actually backfired on him and may have cost his candidate the race. Running on gun control was not a winning message.
Two years later, in the 2017 elections, Northam, an advocate of gun control, defeated NRA-backed candidate Ed Gillespie, but it was despite Northam’s gun-control agenda, not because of it. According to a poll we commissioned, among voters who knew of Northam’s gun control views, 38 percent said that would make them less likely to vote for him. Only 30 percent said it would make them more likely to support Northam. Overall, Virginia voters that year said they supported the Second Amendment by a margin of 55-45 percent.
This year the gun-control lobby is screaming louder than ever in an effort to distract voters from the sexual assault and racism scandals that have embroiled the Northam administration. But at the end of the day, Virginians support the Second Amendment right to self-defense and will vote for the freedom to defend themselves and their families.