AMAC Exclusive – By Andrew Abbott
Almost a month after the Republican Party achieved multiple historic victories in Virginia, most notably the election of Glenn Youngkin to the governor’s mansion, Democrats are still scrambling to figure out how they so badly misread the state. The president’s party does not typically fare well in off-year elections, yet even still Democrat losses in Virginia, a state Biden won by 10 points, were a devastating blow to their morale. Although education issues undoubtedly took center stage in the final weeks of the campaign, another well-established issue for conservatives – Second Amendment freedoms – also aided GOP successes in Virginia, and perhaps foreshadowed what could become a major campaign theme heading into the midterm elections next year.
Incumbent Governor Ralph Northam spent most of the 2021 gubernatorial campaign largely absent from the public eye. Virginia term limits prevented Northam from seeking a second consecutive term, yet he was rarely seen on the campaign trail with his intended replacement, Terry McAuliffe, himself a former governor. This was largely due to the national scandal over a photo of Northam at a college party either dressed as a Klu Klux Klan member or wearing blackface (he doesn’t remember which).
Because of this, Northam’s tenure as governor was largely absent from mainstream media narratives. But what this lack of media attention in part masked was the fact that, before Virginians were rallying at school board meetings to oppose CRT, they were rallying at city council meetings to oppose Governor Northam’s attempt to strip Virginians of their Second Amendment rights.
In his campaign for the governor in 2017, Northam actively called for stricter gun control measures across the state. In 2019, following a mass shooting in Virginia Beach, he aggressively pushed for a series of new restrictions, including background checks on all firearms sales and transactions; banning assault weapons, high-capacity magazines, bump stocks and silencers; only one handgun purchase within a 30-day period; allowing law enforcement and the courts to temporarily separate a person from their firearms; and regulating firearms in municipal buildings, libraries and at permitted events.
These measures represented some of the most extreme gun control measures ever proposed in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Northam intended to pass the measures immediately. In response, furious Virginians flooded the Virginia General Assembly with opposition to the law. The Republican-controlled assembly heeded the public outcry, reject the bill without a vote.
Virginians were so alarmed by Northam’s overreach that they petitioned local legislatures to declare their counties “Second Amendment Sanctuaries.” These resolutions affirmed that Virginia municipalities would protect the rights of their citizens to keep and bear arms. They vowed to do everything within their constitutional powers to oppose and resist complying with any attempt by Governor Northam to abridge their Second Amendment rights. While the resolutions were largely symbolic, their political effect was significant, and far-reaching. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Eighty-six of Virginia’s 95 counties have passed such sanctuary measures opposing restrictions on the right to keep and bear arms. They suggest that the counties might not enforce new state laws limiting gun rights.”
Meanwhile, although Northam was forced to say publicly that he supported the Second Amendment, he largely dismissed the concerns of his constituents. He apparently decided that if the Republican-controlled General Assembly was going to oppose him, he would simply wait for Democrats to take control and force his gun control plan through then.
When Democrats did seize control of the General Assembly in 2020, 22,000 legal gun owners gathered in Richmond once again to oppose the measure. Northam again ignored them and succeeded in passing a portion of the plan, including universal background checks, limiting handgun sales to one every thirty days, and permitting law enforcement to temporarily seize weapons from citizens who have not been charged with a crime. Many firearms advocates have warned that such measures can and will be abused by anti-gun bureaucrats to keep law-abiding citizens from exercising their Second Amendment freedoms.
Aware of the importance of the Second Amendment to Virginians, Republican Gubernatorial candidate Glenn Youngkin pledged to protect the Second Amendment and roll back Northam’s restrictive gun-control measures. Although it has been far less widely discussed as an issue in the race, Second Amendment rights were clearly a major motivator for groups like the Virginia Citizens Defense League to make sizeable investments in the 2021 cycle in support of Youngkin as well as down-ballot Republicans. Of the 51 delegates the PAC endorsed, 29 won, with five seats being “flipped” from blue to red. In every district in which the group ran ads, Youngkin won by between 2%-10%. Most surprisingly, in the left-leaning Chesterfield County, Youngkin won by 6%.
In a recent Politico op-ed, Richard Feldman, a former NRA lobbyist, noted that women, as well as Black and Latino Americans, are increasingly exercising their Second Amendment rights—and this two may have contributed to some unexpected strength for Youngkin among typically left-leaning demographics in Virginia. Republicans are also increasingly making inroads with these voters nationwide. With a crime wave gripping the nation, it appears more Americans are understanding that they must ultimately rely on themselves, not the government, to keep their families safe. In next year’s midterms, a motivated voting bloc of firearm-owning Americans could help trigger a Republican landslide.
Andrew Abbott is the pen name of a writer and public affairs consultant with over a decade of experience in DC at the intersection of politics and culture.
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