Both sides of gun debate see hope in Virginia elections


Though guns may have not been the first thing on Virginia voters’ minds when they punched their ballots in a governor’s race that turned largely on jobs, women’s rights and allegations of corruption, heavy hitters from either side of the debate over Second Amendment rights are claiming victory in Democrat Terry McAuliffe’s surprisingly narrow victory.

The National Rifle Association, which has its headquartered in Virginia, issued a press release just days prior to the election pointing to the tightening electoral gap between McAuliffe and Republican Ken Cuccinelli as evidence that McAuliffe’s pro-gun regulation stance was working against him. The governor-elect was the only candidate on the ballot with an “F” rating from the guns rights group.

Meanwhile, Mayors Against Illegal Guns— the coalition led by outgoing NYC mayor Michael Bloomberg — just released an ad (see below) proclaiming the Democratic victories in Virginia as a resounding defeat of the gun lobby.

In the recent ad from MAIG, Colin Goddard, a survivor of the Virginia Tech massacre, states that “candidates up and down the ballot made it (the issue of gun violence) central to their campaigns and voters of Virginia rewarded them for it.” In fact, while Democrats also claimed the lieutenant governor’s post, the attorney general’s race is too close to call and is in a recount. Leading by 300 votes is Mark Obenshain, who was endorsed by the NRA. Moreover, while a Quinnipiac University poll in January found that more than 90 percent of Virginia voters supported “requiring background checks on people buying guns at gunshows, exit polls show that the economy, healthcare and a host of ethics scandals were the main issues du jour.

Blacksburg, Va. was the site of one of the worst mass shootings in recent memory when a lone shooter — who legally purchased his firearms from registered dealers despite treatment for mental illness — killed 32 people in a rampage on the Virginia Tech campus. It was also the site of a debate in which McAuliffe forcefully reiterated his support for gun control.

Through his super PAC, Independence USA, Bloomberg has taken an active role in high-profile races across the country, backing candidates that are in line with the mayor’s pet issues: gun control and education. The billionaire outgoing mayor, who initially was elected as a Republican but switched his registration to independent, spent big on ads supporting McAuliffe, an unabashed supporter of stricter gun laws.

In total, Independence USA spent $3.1 million in outside expenditures and direct contributions on the race, according to data from the Virginia Public Access Project. Americans for Responsible Solutions, the super PAC associated with former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, D-Ariz., also chipped in $170,410 supporting McAuliffe. Giffords was forced to retire from Congress after sustaining a near-fatal gunshot wound to the head in a 2011 assassination attempt in Tucson.

The NRA, for its part, spent $478,645 on the race. All of this money came in the form of independent expenditures, but there is no record of direct contributions to Cuccinelli. Unlike most states, Virginia campaign finance laws impose no limits on contributions to candidate committees — meaning the NRA, or any other entity, could have given an unlimited amount directly to a candidate’s campaign.

The Old Dominion State is not the first place Bloomberg and the NRA have clashed; the eagerness of the mayors’ group to brand the Virginia elections as a referendum on gun could point to the fact the gun control forces are badly in need of a win.

In September, recall elections in Colorado saw a flurry of spending from both the NRA and Mayors Against Illegal Guns among other groups. Two Colorado state senators facing recall votes for their support of tougher gun laws were ultimately defeated in spite heavy spending by Giffords’ and Bloomberg’s committees.

Now that the Virginia race has run its course, the outside spending interests are clashing again: the NRA has promised that it will take judicial action against tougher new gun restrictions — bolstered by MAIG support — in Sunnyvale, Calif.