The American gun-control movement has long insisted that public opinion is firmly on its side, and that its aims are thwarted not by their political unpopularity but by the obstinacy of a handful of over-powerful players. What happened in Virginia at the beginning of this year demonstrates once again that this claim of public support is flatly untrue.
By now, we are well-accustomed to hearing that “Republicans!” or “the NRA!” or “extremists!” have hijacked our elections and set about destroying the prospect of meaningful “gun-safety” reforms in the United States. But, if that is true, what should we make of Virginia’s failure to push through the gun ban that the governor and others had so confidently promised?
Certainly, one cannot blame the Republican party, which fared so poorly during the last set of state elections that the Democrats were left in charge of every branch of state government. Nor can one blame the country’s pro-Second Amendment advocacy groups, which, as usual, were outspent in the state. And one cannot claim with a straight face that the Democrats did not care enough about the issue, given that they campaigned on imposing new restrictions, promised after they won that they would impose new restrictions and, at the first opportunity, tried to impose new restrictions. Could it be, perhaps, that when push comes to shove, limiting the right to keep and bear arms is a losing proposition in America?
The scale of the reaction in Virginia suggests the answer is “yes.” Gov. Ralph Northam and the Democratic legislature insisted they were going to prohibit the sale of the most-commonly owned rifle in the United States and ban and confiscate standard-capacity magazines. In return, the people of Virginia insisted they were going to do no such thing. Six cities and 91 out of the state’s 95 counties passed resolutions declaring themselves Second Amendment “sanctuaries.” In Richmond, NRA-ILA organized lobby day, where more than 2000 members met with lawmakers to voice their opposition to new gun laws. A week later a rally against the proposals drew more than 22,000 peaceful protestors. And the letters and phone calls flew in by the day. Eventually, the legislature backed down—first by pretending to water down the proposals in a number of entirely meaningless and wholly unconvincing ways, and then by pulling bills before they got out of committee.
At the heart of the gun-control movement lies a terrible misconception as to who American gun-owners are—a misconception that explains a great deal about our debates over the Second Amendment and helps to explicate what happened in Virginia. In the gun-control activists’ imagination, meaningful support for the right to keep and bear arms is a fringe phenomenon, present only among society’s oddballs and outliers, and gun owners are a small, rural, homogeneous and dangerous minority.
In reality, that support exists across the spectrum. Why? Because gun owners are half of the country. Electricians are gun owners. Bankers are gun owners. Teachers are gun owners. Stay-at-home moms are gun owners. Your neighbors are gun owners. They may be quiet about it most of the time, but, when the government tries to strip them of their elementary rights in the name of protecting them, they will break that silence in an instant and stand up to say “no.” In Virginia, it looked for a while as if all the chips had fallen in the wrong place. For the first time in decades, the Democrat Party not only controlled the entire State government, but it seemed determined to use its power to infringe upon the Second Amendment. The game was up, we were told.
And then, it lost its central attempt at a gun ban and possible confiscation.
What happened? You happened. I happened. “We the People” happened. Not today, Virginia.