Politics & Policy

Yes, Virginia, There Is a Gun-Rights Movement. And It’s Winning.

At the NRA convention in Houston, Tx., May 5, 2013. (Justin Sullivan/Getty)

Over the last few months, an important drama has played out in the state of Virginia. As leaders of the gun-control movement looked to prove to Democrats that their issue can move voters, they settled on Virginia as their guinea pig. After a failed election and a relatively inconsequential executive action on guns from Clintonite governor Terry McAuliffe, their experiments culminated in a bold move: unilateral action from the Democratic attorney general that broke the state’s concealed-carry reciprocity agreement (in this agreement, Virginia’s concealed-carry permits were honored by 25 other states).

Then, on Friday, that action was undone by a deal between McAuliffe and Republicans.

More embarrassingly for the gun-control advocates, new details Friday revealed that the McAuliffe–Republican deal was more expansive than was first reported. Not only did the deal reverse the Democrats’ unilateral action and restore all 25 of the reciprocity deals; it also mandated that Virginia recognize permits from all states and create reciprocity agreements with every state that wants one. The deal is a leap forward for gun-rights activists. It also undermines Democrats’ effort to present gun control as a winning issue in the state and nationally.

As a movement, gun control never made much sense — it has faced one setback after another over many decades. But it nonetheless carried on full-steam ahead, and gun-control activists believed that 2016 would be the year they finally turned things around.

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Their belief is proving misplaced, as polls are showing a sharp turnaround in Americans’ attitudes on guns. Up to this point, most Americans believed that guns were “too easy” to get. Up to this point, most Americans wanted to ban so-called assault weapons. The opposite is true now, and even a historic front-page New York Times anti-gun editorial hasn’t changed that. Today, most Americans are on board with concealed carry. If that’s not enough, we’re also seeing record levels of gun sales across the country.

The shift toward gun rights over the last several months has been historic, though gun-control activists are doing their best to ignore it. Head in sand, they dedicated themselves to proving their case in Virginia. Steve Friess in The Trace — an online magazine “dedicated to expanding the coverage of guns in the Unites States” — touted gun controllers’ push to have an impact in Virginia’s midterm elections last year. In October, he wrote:

Four Virginia state senate races to be decided next month are being used as a laboratory for an electoral experiment that will yield vital data on how gung-ho calls for gun safety affect voter turnout and preferences in a swing state.

Gun-control activists poured millions of dollars into the state-senate election in an effort to flip a single seat so Democrats could regain control. Bloomberg and company dumped several million dollars into two state-senate campaigns, one for a seat held by a Democrat and one by a Republican. Their goal was to prove that gun control, if placed at the center of a campaign, could win elections again. Appearing on MSNBC the night before the election, Terry McAuliffe practically begged voters to flip just one seat so he could enact new gun-control measures.

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The results? Literally nothing. Democrats held the Democratic seat. Republicans held the Republican seat. The balance of power didn’t move an inch. One longtime Virginia Democratic operative, analyzing the party’s failure to flip the Republican seat, wrote, “Definitely Bloomberg backlash.”

It was a huge blow to the gun-control movement. The only thing they proved was that the conventional wisdom still holds true: Gun control doesn’t move voters toward Democrats.

#share#In spite of their electoral failure, Virginia Democrats moved ahead in late 2015 with new gun-control efforts. McAuliffe led things off with an executive order that called for a number of committees and banned guns from certain executive-branch buildings. His attorney general then eliminated the reciprocity concealed-carry deals with 25 other states.

This served to lift the spirits of gun-control activists. Sure, the measures do little to combat crime, because concealed carriers commit crimes at lower rates than even the police. Sure, the moves came by way of executive fiat that flies directly in the face of an electoral mandate. But, hey, Virginians had their gun rights restricted, so for some activists, that’s a win.

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Unfortunately for these activists, Virginians did not approve. Republicans introduced a universal concealed-carry reciprocity bill, and it’s possible they had enough support for it to override a McAuliffe veto. So the governor caved and actually broadened Virginians’ gun rights: Virginia will now have one of the most widely recognized permits in the country.

The tradeoffs? A voluntary system for background checks on private sales at gun shows, and a gun ban for those with permanent protective orders against them, which mirrors federal law. In other words, nothing gun-rights advocates are particularly upset about.

The gun-control groups that have spent so much and ended up with so little have gone nuclear on McAuliffe and Virginia Democrats. They’ve been e-mailing their supporters to complain that McAuliffe betrayed them and caved to the NRA. The Everytown Survivor Network (a gun-control advocacy group that includes the father of Alison Parker, the WDBJ reporter shot dead on live TV last year) blasted McAuliffe last week for giving in to the “gun lobby.”

#related#So, to recap: Gun-control activists declared Virginia their proving ground and poured unbelievable amounts of money into a state-senate election; then they lost that election; then they bet big on executive actions instituting new gun control; they watched as those actions were not only reversed but gun rights were expanded.

If we take Virginia as the bellwether that the gun-control activists envisioned, then gun control is dead as a 2016 issue. Democrats across the country might want to check in on what just happened in the Old Dominion before they dive headfirst into another election focused on guns.

And Hillary Clinton, who is currently running as far left on guns as possible, might want to pay particularly close attention to what’s going on in her former moneyman’s state.

— Stephen Gutowski writes about firearms for the Washington Free Beacon.


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