The gun issue is about to take center stage in Virginia politics as advocates on both sides will try to influence the outcome of a special session next month.
But, the campaign contributions on the issue may surprise you.
In the last few years, a shift has taken place on the gun issue in Virginia. It used to be that gun rights groups totally dominated the field, groups like the National Rifle Association and Virginia Citizens Defense League would fork over massive amounts of campaign cash and ultimately get their way at the state Capitol.
But about four years ago, something changed. The gun control groups started investing heavily in Democratic politics in Virginia. New York-based Everytown for Gun Safety pumped $1.6 million into one particular state Senate race in Prince William County, for example. John Feinblatt, president of Everytown for Gun Safety, explains why. “Virginians want candidates who will stand up to the NRA in the NRAs’ own backyard. We’ve seen that cycle after cycle, and we want to make sure that they’ve got elected officials who represent them.”
Feinblatt says Everytown intends to play a role in the upcoming campaign cycle, though he declined to be specific about the numbers. He says the aim of the organization is to help deliver on what voters want. “They expect their legislators to protect them, and if legislators in Richmond refuse to protect them we are committed to help them elect new lawmakers who will.”
These days, advocates for gun control outspend advocates for gun rights. And it’s not even close according to numbers posted to the Virginia Public Access Project. In the last four years, the NRA has contributed $130,000. In that same time, Everytown has contributed $5 million.
“All that money flooding from out of state trying to control what’s going on in Virginia is a problem,” says Phillip Van Cleve, head of the Virginia Citizens Defense League. “It’s a lot of money. I wish we had billionaires throwing money at us. We could do a lot too. But it seems like the gun control side has billionaires that want to be controlling of everybody, sort of tyrannical. That seems to be the kind that are attracted to the other side. We don’t tend to get that kind.”
Quentin Kidd, a political analyst at Christopher Newport University, says he expects this issue to be at the center of this year’s campaign. “There’s no doubt in my mind that gun control groups are going to actively play in a lot of races, especially in suburban competitive districts in Richmond and Hampton Roads.”
And, he adds, those suburban districts are places where Republicans have been struggling in recent elections. “Think about Glen Sturtevant. Think about Bill DeSteph in Virginia Beach and other Republicans in Virginia Beach. It would be hard for some of them to walk away from this special session not having supported some kind of reform on guns,” Kidd predicts.
This fall, both sides will be throwing campaign cash at the issue, and it could end up being a record-breaking year for candidates raising -- and spending money -- specifically on the issue of guns.