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Target practice / December 04, 2019
The response to the Second Amendment Sanctuary movement that has taken rural Virginia by storm is truly impressive from a political point of view — massive turnouts at local meetings, virtually unanimous support among local officials, a string of formal declarations by county governments, and a fast-paced reddening of the state map.

Compared to what’s ahead, however, the work being done at the grassroots level is the easy part.

Getting Richmond to listen during the upcoming General Assembly session will be a whole lot tougher.

And you know what? As much as the optics of the moment may say otherwise, the 2A Sanctuary crusade has a bigger problem than simply too many Democrats in Richmond. Outside of rural areas, the movement is operating at a distinct disadvantage in the court of public opinion.

When seeking an accurate assessment of the current state of the public mood, a great place to turn is the Pew Research Center, which operates free of the headline-grabbing demands that weigh on a lot of polling outfits. Pew Research data is the industry gold standard. Here’s what Pew researchers have found on the question of public support for gun control legislation:

“Around nine-in-ten Republicans and Republican-leaning independents (92 percent) and Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (91 percent) say they favor preventing people with mental illnesses from buying guns. And large majorities of both Democrats (93 percent) and Republicans (82 percent) favor background checks for private gun sales and sales at gun shows.

“Other proposals bring out stark partisan rifts. Democrats, for example, are much more likely than Republicans to favor banning assault-style weapons (88 percent vs. 50 percent) and high-capacity magazines (87 percent vs. 54 percent).” (These passages are lifted from “Seven facts about guns in the U.S.,” Pew Research Center, Oct. 22, 2019.)

Let’s stop there for a moment: one of the flashpoints in the sudden rush of Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions is the widespread fear among gun owners that Virginia Democrats may vote to ban assault-style weapons. Yet consider that a step viewed as obscenely radical by lots of folks hereabouts is supported by roughly half of Republicans, the party that allegedly has sworn never to let guns be wrested away from their rightful owners. Half of Republicans support an assault weapons ban in the Pew polling! If you want to know why gun rights absolutists are in for a rough go in Richmond come January, you can start right there.

You can also roll back the clock to late May, when a crazed shooter with no previous discernible mental health issues gunned down 12 city workers in Virginia Beach, or go back in time to 2007 when 32 innocents were slaughtered on the campus of Virginia Tech. Or you can skip around the timeline and put your finger on the deaths of 58 people and the wounding of 413 others at an outdoor country music event in Las Vegas — again, by a perpetrator with no known mental health issues. Or you can simply cite any one of the more than 380 mass shootings that have occurred in the U.S. so far this year.

The time for new gun laws has clearly arrived — in Virginia today, other states tomorrow. The question to ask isn’t whether rural Virginia has a voice in this matter. Obviously it does, as expressed by wave after wave of local boards that have adopted sanctuary language. The question is whether the elected majority in Richmond will listen — or more accurately, whether it feels like it needs to listen.

To get the attention of Virginia Democrats, gun owners would do well to be judicious in their arguments — and to be clear, they have some strong ones to make. But before we arrive at that point in the discussion, let’s consider the claims that are guaranteed to get eye-rolled out of a General Assembly hearing room near you:

» The right to bear arms is essential to hold government tyranny at bay. This, you may have heard, is a favorite line of the pro-gun community’s militia-adjacent membership. Um, guys? If you want to get a fair hearing in the days ahead, it would be a really, really good idea to leave this line back at the hotel. It’s a guaranteed loser because it is wholly unsupported by the law of the land and represents the sort of provocative nonsense that just makes otherwise sober-minded people mad. Don’t do it.

» To stop someone with a gun, you need people with more guns. Another weak sauce argument — I couldn’t begin to list all the incidents where a shooter intent on slaughter overpowered everyone in sight, including military and law enforcement personnel trained in the use of firearms. The element of surprise is just too great to overcome in situations where a demented killer with a plan confronts someone who is forced to assess the threat, reach for a weapon and aim all in a split second. Are mass shooters ever brought down by a “good guy with a gun”? Occasionally, but not often — not often enough to build support for the idea of making guns more ubiquitous, rather than less.

» Second Amendment Sanctuary counties should be exempt from gun restrictions that Virginia Democrats place on the rest of the Commonwealth. I bring this one up because it’s the idea behind legislation that GOP Del. James Edmunds (R-Halifax) plans to introduce in the upcoming Assembly session. Don’t look now, but for once state Sen. Frank Ruff gets it right; in our front-page piece today, Ruff told The Sun that he doubts lawmakers “would pass restrictive legislation [and] then allow legislation that would exempt a major part of the state from that restrictive legislation.” In other words, no one is going to pass laws that apply to some folks and not others. Ruff says he has doubts, which is not the word I’d use, but hey: stop the world, we both basically agree.

I could go on, but instead let’s focus on arguments that are much likelier to carry weight in the deliberations to come. The best arguments are the simple and genuine ones — such as, hunting is a proud part of the fabric of rural Virginia, and guns are obviously a big part of that. Plus, people have an understandable and completely defensible desire to possess guns for self-defense. (That said, one of the most upsetting passages of Pew’s “Seven facts about guns in the U.S.” is the dramatically elevated risk of suicide deaths in households where firearms are present.) None of these basic arguments in favor of gun ownership are particularly controversial, but in the rush to shut down any movement whatsoever towards gun reform — an effort that is destined to fail, it cannot be said enough — the commonsense sentiment of the countryside is at risk of being overwhelmed by extremist-sounding nonsense from folks who watch too much NRA-TV.

It’s admirable whenever people turn out to speak their minds at local government meetings. We could stand to turbocharge the democratic processes at every turn. But 5,000 people could turn out for a county board of supervisors meeting and it wouldn’t do a thing to overturn the will of millions of voters statewide who elected Democratic candidates openly running on gun control platforms. Now that Virginia Dems are in charge, the more fruitful approach is pointing out the inconsistencies and flaws of their proposed bills — and the environment is target-rich in certain areas. Sen. Richard Saslaw, who will become one of the two most powerful figures in the General Assembly beginning in January, has a bill in the hopper that would ban possession of assault-style weapons in Virginia — an idea, whatever you may think of the merits, that is wholly unworkable in practice. Banning the sale of assault weapons is one thing. Banning simple possession, especially for those who already own such guns, is another. Point is, it’s early in the bill-drafting process, and December is when you see all kinds of sloppy work at the Capital. January and February is when the real business gets done. But if well-meaning gun owners hope to be successful in brushing away the slop, they would do well to leave their own rhetorical excess outside of the hearing rooms.

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