At a forum earlier this year, when Glenn Youngkin was asked what gun safety measures he would support if elected governor, he replied “I think we need to be fully clear: none.” On Tuesday, Virginia voters need to be equally clear in their response: Youngkin’s hands-off approach to gun violence is dangerous and disqualifying.
In fact, voters have been delivering that exact message for years now, although Republicans like Youngkin don’t seem to be listening. Two years ago, the Commonwealth was devastated by the mass shooting at Virginia Beach, in which 12 people were killed and four were wounded. In the aftermath, Virginians delivered an urgent demand to lawmakers: Pass common-sense laws to keep guns out of dangerous hands — and pass them now.
Governor Northam listened to the people, and called a special session of the General Assembly to address gun violence. But Republican lawmakers, who held a majority, gaveled out of that session in less than two hours, without taking up a single measure.
A few months later, on Election Day, the people finally had a chance to deliver a verdict on the do-nothing strategy of Republican leaders, and it was conclusive — voters flipped the balance of power in the General Assembly and elected a new gun sense majority. And that majority wasted no time passing a strong package of gun safety laws, including requiring background checks on all gun sales, and giving law enforcement a much-needed tool to keep guns away from people who pose a danger to themselves or others.
Now all that progress is on the line. Youngkin has pledged to “stand up against” — in other words, roll back — Virginia’s new gun safety laws if he gets elected. This should come as no surprise, given that Youngkin is a longtime ally of the gun lobby, which has proven time and again that it cares more about enriching the gun industry than keeping American families safe.
Luckily, Virginians have a clear alternative in Terry McAuliffe, who is running as a vocal champion of gun safety. If elected, he plans to strengthen the state’s background check system. He will also prevent people who have committed hate crimes from owning guns. And he wants to go after deadly, untraceable ghost guns, which are one of the fastest-growing threats to public safety facing our nation. But it’s not just what he will do that makes McAuliffe the clear choice for voters who prioritize public safety – it’s also what he has already accomplished. The data doesn’t lie: During McAuliffe’s first term as Governor, Virginia was the fourth safest state in the nation.
That hasn’t stopped Youngkin from trying to claim the mantle of crime-fighting crusader. Over the summer, Youngkin trotted out a line claiming that McAuliffe had “turned his back on law enforcement.” Which is rich with irony, because if you really want to keep law enforcement and the community safe, the first thing to do is stand up for laws to keep guns out of criminal hands — and the last thing you should do is promise to dismantle the safeguards Virginians fought so hard to pass, which is what Youngkin plans to do.
It’s telling that in the final weeks of the campaign, Youngkin has pivoted away from talking about crime and public safety. Perhaps he saw the recent poll from Everytown for Gun Safety, the organization I lead, which found that 78 percent of Virginians believe the state’s gun laws should be kept as they are now, or made even tougher. But Youngkin has already made it perfectly clear that he believes the opposite, and will try to create a future where pretty much anyone should be allowed to carry a gun pretty much wherever they want. Now it’s time for Virginians to let Youngkin know that his extreme “guns everywhere” agenda has no place in today’s Commonwealth.
John Feinblatt is president of Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund.