( – promoted by lowkell)
As I watched the returns come in on the evening of November 8th with friends and colleagues at Don McEachin’s law office, I reacted with dread as the final results of the State Senate races became apparent. As one of the lead advocates for gun violence prevention issues in Virginia, I knew that Senate leadership would change and I would no longer be able to rely on our friends in that body to kill the perennial slew of bad bills coming over from the House of Delegates.
To the dismay of progressives across the Commonwealth, the 2011 state elections eliminated the safety net Democrats in the Senate had been able to provide, not only to those of us advocating for gun violence prevention, but on so many other social issues as well. The idea of state government totally in the control of Republicans rightly gave progressives the chills.
This concern was not, as it turns out, unwarranted at all, as the dire predictions made on this blog and in other forums have unfortunately materialized. The consequences of the Republican takeover have been devastating for many Virginians. And, true to what happened on other social issues, Republican legislators sponsored numerous bills — 43 to be exact — to loosen Virginia’s already weak gun laws, and the gun lobby gleefully anticipated easy passage.
At the top of the list for the gun lobby were four priorities: removing the ability of public colleges and universities to regulate the possession of guns on their campuses; dismantling the State Police’s state-of-the-art background check system; repealing the one-handgun-a-month law; and enacting so-called “castle doctrine” legislation to immunize shooters from criminal and civil liability for their actions.
We all know that the gun lobby did get one of its wishes, but only with the help of Democrats Creigh Deeds and John Edwards. The repeal of the one-handgun-a-month law passed, but not before giving Governor McDonnell a lot of heartache and bad press. In a surprise development, however, the other priority bills, as well as most of the other bills sponsored by the gun lobby, were defeated or even pulled by their sponsors.
In retrospect, I should have had more faith in our ability to mobilize our fellow citizens, who were outraged by the gun lobby’s overreach. Change is slow to come to Virginia at times, but there certainly has been much progress in changing the attitudes of Virginians when it comes to what constitutes a “responsible” gun law.
In the aftermath of the Va Tech tragedy almost five years ago, many of the families directly affected by that shooting have, over time, had a great impact by sharing their stories and sadly, putting a face to the toll of gun violence. Along with the hard work of gun violence prevention advocates from across the Commonwealth, attitudes have clearly changed with the large majority of Virginians embracing responsible gun laws.
Polling conducted by Lake Research Partners, examining two Senate districts (Districts 21 and 38 – John Edwards and Phil Puckett) in Southwestern Virginia confirmed that attitudes are indeed changing in Virginia in a big way. Although these districts are typically thought to be among the most conservative and pro-gun in the Commonwealth, the polling made clear that efforts to educate citizens about the dangers of lax gun laws have permeated all areas of the state. Even I was surprised to see the almost universal support for background checks on all gun sales. In fact, the results showed overwhelming support for sensible gun laws – even among gun owners:
o Voters in both districts want to make gun laws stronger, not less restrictive.
o More than 7 in 10 voters oppose guns on campus.
o More than 6 in 10 voters oppose the repeal of one-gun-a-month.
o 94% of gun owners support universal background checks.
These poll results, along with recent polling commissioned by the Richmond Times Dispatch showing strong statewide support for the one-handgun-a-month-law, dramatically illustrate the extent to which the conventional wisdom of the politics of guns is wrong. People from all over the Commonwealth want responsible gun laws and politicians that support these policies will gain, not lose, support.
It is long past time that the entire Democratic caucus understand this new reality and take advantage of it. If Republicans and a few Democrats want to ignore this changing reality, let them do so at their own peril.