A-list: Virginia’s GOP legislators stay NRA strong

U.S. Senate hopeful Corey Stewart’s campaign stunts included giving away an AR-15 at a gun range in 2016. In February 2017, he held a rally in Charlottesville in support of keeping the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park.
EZE AMOS U.S. Senate hopeful Corey Stewart’s campaign stunts included giving away an AR-15 at a gun range in 2016. In February 2017, he held a rally in Charlottesville in support of keeping the Robert E. Lee statue in Emancipation Park. EZE AMOS

It’s disappointing that the Virginia legislature didn’t see fit to advance even a sliver of new restrictions on guns, militias and racist, reactionary mayhem during the current session. Not a single bill drafted in response to August 12 made it through for consideration in the other chamber, nor did some 60 gun control-related bills.

Plainly, GOP loyalty to the gun lobby trumps outrage over the terrifying presence of self-described militias on Charlottesville’s streets last summer. Certainly, the NRA appreciates it that way, expressing late last month its thanks to the House and Senate committees and NRA members “who voiced opposition to these dangerous attempts to restrict our Second Amendment rights and right to self-defense.”

Disappointing, for sure, but unsurprising considering the near-victor in the Republican gubernatorial primary last year included an AR-15 giveaway in his arsenal of campaign stunts. Yes, Virginia, with the slaughter at Virginia Tech only a decade in the past, Corey Stewart was giving away a semi-automatic weapon to a lucky supporter at the end of 2016.

Leaving aside whether Stewart lacks empathy for the families of those victims and the survivors of the Tech trauma, the chair of the Prince William Board of Supervisors and 2018 U.S. Senate hopeful is certainly tuned in to the values of some Virginia voters. Recall that Stewart lost the Republican nomination to Ed Gillespie by a slim 4,537 votes.

Still, even a gun guy like Stewart, similar to his former boss Donald Trump, can’t ignore the mounting public pressure to do something real about the scourge of gun violence across the United States. “I think teachers and students are sitting ducks right now,” he told a Norfolk TV station after Parkland. His proposal? It’s straight out of the NRA playbook: arm teachers. Not any teachers—just the ones with good dispositions. Feel better now?

(By way of contrast, note that Tim Kaine, the Democratic incumbent senator who was Virginia’s governor at the time of the Blacksburg massacre that left 32 dead and 17 injured, is openly emotional about what he calls “the worst day of his life.” The NRA grades him an F.)

Stewart, who earns an A rating, is not the only NRA darling running for office this year. The 5th District’s own Tom Garrett has has taken a couple of Gs from gun lobbyists. He too is an A student of the Second Amendment.

The thing about Virginia’s lax gun laws is this: They don’t affect Virginians alone. Inconsistent regulations on background checks and ownership across the country leave everyone vulnerable to gun violence. As my colleague Scott Weaver described in this paper 10 years ago, Virginia is a leading source for guns in New York City, for example, where firearms restrictions are much tougher. In turn, New York City is a leading source for drugs in Virginia. Well known in law enforcement circles for decades, this channel of illicit transaction has earned I-95 the moniker Iron Pipeline.

Maybe it’s a reach to hope that Corey Stewart and Tom Garrett will give a flying pickle about the perils of Virginia’s gun laws for people in other parts of the country since they seem unmoved by the dangers closer to home. But as the students in Parkland are demonstrating, there’s a reckoning a-coming for any lawmaker who denies the interconnectedness of the gun violence. The question in Virginia and across the country is: How long will it be before voters teach politicians a lesson about school shootings?

Yes, Virginia is a monthly opinion column.

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