No Virginia politician embraced gun rights in 2021 more than Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears, a U.S. Marine veteran.
Virginia voters sent a resounding message to the commonwealth’s anti-gun executive branch and state legislature as well as gun-control-supporting politicians watching around the country on Nov. 2, 2021. Republicans swept the Old Dominion’s statewide races and took back control of the House of Delegates. The results were due in no small part to the tireless effort and votes of the commonwealth’s gun owners.
In the 2019 state election, Democrats secured majorities in both houses of the Virginia General Assembly. With the embattled Ralph Northam (D) occupying the executive mansion, the even more scandal-ridden Justin Fairfax (D) as lieutenant governor and second-term anti-gun activist Mark Herring (D) as attorney general, that election gave Democrats complete control over the state government for the first time since 1994.
Immediately after securing power, Virginia’s anti-gun lawmakers went to work targeting gun owners. In an election-night press release celebrating his party’s victory, Northam made clear his intent to use the new Democrat majorities to enact what he termed “commonsense gun safety legislation.” In the coming months, state lawmakers would introduce all manner of gun-control legislation. This included bans on commonly owned semi-automatic firearms and their magazines, so-called “Red Flag” bills to strip gun owners of their Second Amendment rights without due process, one-handgun-a-month gun rationing and even a ridiculous measure aimed at shutting down our own public shooting range at NRA headquarters.
Old Dominion gun owners were swift to mobilize across the traditionally pro-Second Amendment commonwealth. At the outset of the legislative session in January 2020, NRA and other gun-rights supporters gathered at the Virginia State Capitol in Richmond to take their concerns about the raft of proposed gun-control measures directly to lawmakers.
Thanks to the swift mobilization of NRA members and other gun-rights supporters, and a handful of moderate Democrat state senators, the worst of Northam and his anti-gun cadre’s measures were beaten back. Unfortunately, gun-control supporters did manage to enact a handful of gun restrictions, including criminalizing the private sale of firearms, a version of “Red Flag” legislation and an attack on Virginia’s state firearm pre-emption statute.
What some of the executive officeholders and legislators who pushed this legislation may not have fully appreciated is that gun owners tend to have long memories. Moreover, for those who don’t, NRA will be there at election time with a helpful refresher.
To secure gun rights in the commonwealth, NRA went all-in on the 2021 Virginia election. Given the stakes, with fantastically qualified statewide candidates and historic recruitment at the statehouse level, the decision was easy.
Having posed as a moderate during his successful gubernatorial campaign in 2014, this time around, Democrat candidate Terry McAuliffe embraced a radical anti-gun agenda. Bill Clinton’s former bagman promised to finish what Gov. Northam started in 2019 by banning commonly owned semi-automatic firearms like the AR-15 and magazines with a capacity greater than 10 rounds and to further erode Virginia’s state firearms preemption statute. Even more ominous was McAuliffe’s plan to “explore the possibility of requiring waiting periods when a person purchases a firearm, and implementing a permit-to-purchase law.”
In contrast, Gov. Glenn Youngkin promised to protect Virginians’ Second-Amendment rights. While campaigning for the Republican nomination, the political newcomer assured the College Republican Federation of Virginia that “I will not sign a piece of legislation that has anything to do with imposing limitations on our Second Amendment.” Further, in a GOP candidates’ forum, the now-governor explained that in relation to firearms, “We have to actually stand up against all of the legislation that has been passed … As your governor, we will not just stand up, but we will push back.”
It’s safe to say that no politician embraced gun rights in 2021 more than Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears (R), which is why she received NRA-PVF’s coveted endorsement. In becoming the first black woman elected to statewide office, the Marine veteran was unabashed in her support for the Second Amendment and was pictured holding an AR-15 in her campaign materials. When some in the media took exception to the patriotic image, Sears responded in the manner any NRA member would hope, informing the press, “I am a Marine. I’m very comfortable with weapons, and, by the way, we do have a Second Amendment right to have these weapons. That is not an issue.”
The race for Virginia Attorney General was another no-brainer. Since being elected in 2014, the incumbent Herring made it his mission to torment gun owners—attacking the commonwealth’s right-to-carry permit-reciprocity regime, targeting the localities that stood up to Northam’s 2020 gun-control measures and using bizarre interpretations of existing statutes to create roving gun-free zones. Alternatively, Attorney General Jason Miyares (R) earned an NRA-PVF A-rating and endorsement by working to protect gun owners during his time in the House of Delegates.
While the slate of pro-gun candidates on the ballot made NRA’s decision to go big on Virginia easy, winning any election requires hard work.
During the course of the election, NRA contacted voters with nearly one million text messages and tens of thousands of pieces of mail. With the help of our dedicated and selfless volunteers, NRA made thousands of phone calls and did the challenging work of knocking on tens of thousands of doors in order to alert voters to the candidates’ positions face-to-face. We also leveraged our social media to support pro-gun candidates and booked many digital advertisements throughout the commonwealth.
Moreover, NRA hosted numerous townhalls throughout the commonwealth that served as an opportunity for members to meet candidates and learn more about what they could do to organize for victory on election day.
Beyond the headline results, there is deeper evidence that this work helped make a difference. In some House of Delegates’ districts NRA knocked on thousands of doors to inform residents about the importance of the election, while in these same districts, the margin of victory turned out to be measured in mere hundreds of votes. Following NRA’s outreach efforts in House District 85, NRA-PVF-endorsed candidate Karen Greenhalgh (R) defeated the F-rated incumbent by 115 votes.
Even the mainstream press acknowledged the impact of Virginia’s pro-gun vote. Political commentators pointed out the Democrats’ terrible performance in rural portions of the commonwealth, where gun rights are often a key issue. The New York Times published a piece titled, “Democrats Thought They Bottomed Out in Rural, White America. It Wasn’t the Bottom.” The Times reporters noted, “Many of the ideas and issues that animate the Democratic base can be off-putting in small towns or untethered to rural life,” citing “liberal stances on gun rights” as one of those issues. Similarly, an article in The Washington Post titled, “Democrats again lament their weakness in rural areas, but they don’t have an answer to the problem,” noted guns as a problem for the Democrats’ prospects in rural communities.
Looking Forward to 2022
In the wake of the disappointing 2020 presidential election, many gun owners and other freedom-loving Americans took issue with how the vote was conducted. These feelings are understandable. Citing the COVID-19 pandemic, many state officials implemented new voting procedures—some of dubious legality.
However, as Virginia illustrated, the electoral gamesmanship of our opponents is no reason to sit out the fight. The concerted efforts of gun owners to organize and vote has been and will continue to be a vital factor in elections. If anything, our adversaries’ potential mischief should only serve to strengthen gun owners’ resolve to bring overwhelming political force to the battle.
This uncompromising vision of victory is what should drive gun owners going into the 2022 state and federal elections. And the way to make that vision a reality is to start preparing now to secure success in November.
First and foremost, gun owners need to ensure that they and their like-minded friends and loved ones are registered to vote. NRA has made this easier than ever with our Trigger the Vote campaign, which can be reached at triggerthevote.org. This tool can also direct gun owners to information on where and how to cast their ballot.
Next, gun owners should be sure to sign up for NRA-ILA Grassroots email alerts at nraila.org. NRA notifies subscribers to any vital election information. Moreover, NRA contacts subscribers throughout the year to apprise them of pro- and anti-gun legislation moving through their state legislature and the U.S. Congress and of opportunities to organize for political action.
Those ready to take the next step to defend their rights should join NRA-ILA FrontLines. NRA-ILA’s most dedicated volunteers, these NRA members work with their local NRA-ILA Frontlines Activist Leader and NRA-ILA Campaign Field Representatives to support NRA’s pro-Second Amendment agenda. Those willing to share their time to protect gun rights should visit nraila.org/grassroots and nrailafrontlines.com for more information.
As with Virginia in 2021, there should be no shortage of motivation for gun owners to get involved in 2022. President Joe Biden’s unsuccessful nomination of gun-control lobbyist David Chipman to lead ATF and the Department of Justice’s repeated attacks on gun rights via administrative rulemaking show the dire need for a pro-gun Congress to provide a check on the executive branch. Moreover, with state office candidates like Beto “Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15” O’Rourke (running for Texas governor) taking their cues on gun control from the elite donor class rather than constituents, gun owners cannot afford to sit out state elections either.
With a constructive mindset informed by the gun-rights triumph in the Old Dominion, gun owners have every reason to feel confident that diligent work done throughout 2022 will pay off for gun rights come November.
This appeared in the February 2022 issue of America's 1st Freedom.