Pro-gun-safety candidates swept Virginia’s three statewide offices in the 2017 elections, showing that it is prudent to run against the National Rifle Association’s (NRA) agenda and to make gun safety a centerpiece issue of campaigns. These candidates' victories help debunk a myth propogated by the media that gun violence prevention is a losing issue at the polls.
Victorious candidates in Virginia elections last night included Ralph Northam, who won the governor’s seat by nearly nine points, Justin Fairfax, who won the lieutenant governor’s race (both of whom have received “F” ratings from the NRA because of their positions on gun policy), and Mark Herring, who was re-elected attorney general. In 2013, Herring made gun safety a prominent issue of his campaign, and his actions as attorney general led the NRA to label him “one of the most anti-gun lawmakers in Virginia history.”
According to election night exit polls, Northam and Republican candidate Ed Gillespie tied among voters whose primary issue was gun policy:
Buried in exit poll: Northam, F-rated by the NRA, TIED with voters whose #1 issue was guns. pic.twitter.com/0hIxGwctr0
— Dave Weigel (@daveweigel) November 8, 2017
Another candidate who is often linked to gun violence prevention is Chris Hurst, who won a seat in the Virginia House of Delegates. In 2015, Hurst’s girlfriend, television news reporter Alison Parker, was fatally shot during a live broadcast. Hurst, who beat NRA-endorsed Joseph Yost, ran on a platform focused on reducing gun violence specifically for people of color and women who have escaped abusive relationships.
But the NRA media myth about gun violence prevention being a losing issue at polls still persists.
During a November 8 segment on NPR’s Morning Edition about the NRA’s influence, commentator Cokie Roberts said of the group, “I have to hand it to the NRA. They participate, they organize, they contribute, they vote. That’s the way you influence legislation. And if the other side wants to get gun control done, they can’t just tell awful stories. They have to organize and contribute in the same degree.” The results in Virginia are yet another example disproving this analysis, with the NRA failing to rally its supporters to deliver any of the three statewide officers to its preferred candidate.
Winning despite the NRA’s campaign efforts is not a new trend for Virginia’s pro-gun-safety politicians. In 2013, the NRA spent $500,000 to beat Mark Herring in his bid for attorney general. After he won, his campaign manager said that Herring pulled off the victory by running on a strong record of supporting sensible gun legislation. Similarly, the NRA efforts against Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe’s statewide races have also repeatedly come up short. Like Northam, McAuliffe bragged about his “F” rating from the NRA during the 2013 gubernatorial race.
The myth that gun safety is a losing issue dates back to the 1994 congressional midterm elections and the 2000 presidential election in which pundits blamed losses on candidates’ support for gun safety measures. Evidence-based research into those elections has long disproved those theories, which the NRA has nevertheless promoted in order to bolster its image.