During a little-noticed symposium, Virginia Democrat Terry McAuliffe slammed gun shows and revealed he hoped a 2016 compromise bill would put private gun sellers at legal risk.
The current gubernatorial candidate and former governor called gun shows the “worst thing we have” during a 2019 lecture at Geroge Mason University reviewed by The Reload. He decided the inability of the state to pass a law requiring all gun sales to require a background check and claimed private sellers advertised the lack of checks on “big signs’ at the shows.
“The worst thing we have, folks, are these gun shows,” McAuliffe told the audience at the school’s Haynes Lecture Series on March 18th, 2019. “Has anyone ever been to a gun show? They’re unbelievable, aren’t they? I’m talking thousands of people. Hundreds of tables. Hundreds, as far as the eye can see, with any kind of gun you want to buy, with big signs, ‘we don’t do background checks.’ So, you can go any one of these in Virginia and buy any gun you want today, folks. Today, you could do this.”
He went on to say he had an ulterior goal while negotiating a 2016 deal with Virginia Republicans to expand recognition of out-of-state gun-carry permits while stationing state police at gun shows to allow anyone to conduct a background check during a sale. In addition to helping private gun sellers do voluntary checks, he said he hoped the option would create a hidden legal liability for those who decided not to take advantage of the offering.
“My long-term thinking always was, at least they’re there, and if you want to buy a gun and the guy says, ‘you want to get a background check,’ we now can physically do it. You couldn’t do it before,” McAuliffe said. “But I’m thinking, someone goes, buys a gun, commits a mass torturous act, you had the ability to get a background check, but you didn’t get one… might be a legal theory we could use down the road on a tort claim. I was just trying to think.”
Video of the event has received only 452 views on YouTube since it was posted two-and-a-half years ago.
To this point, gun control has taken a back seat to other issues in the campaign, with the candidates focusing on other areas, including vaccine mandates and school re-opening policies. Republican Glenn Youngkin has even gone so far as not to fill out gun-rights groups’ surveys and has not received endorsements from the Virginia Citizens Defense League or the NRA. Youngkin’s campaign has stood by the decision, citing the surveys as a waste of time, even as a liberal dark money group is attempting to use the lack of endorsements to discourage voters in Republican areas from turning out.
The two candidates are starkly divergent on guns, though, with McAuliffe generally supporting more restrictions while Youngkin opposes them. Democrats in the state, with McAuliffe’s support, passed a package of gun-control bills last year that included a requirement all private gun sales also be subject to a background check. But, they ultimately failed to get an “assault weapons” ban through the statehouse. McAuliffe is still pushing for the ban, which would outlaw the sale of the popular AR-15 and other guns, while Youngkin’s campaign told The Reload last month he opposes the policy.
The election’s outcome will likely significantly impact which guns Virginians can buy and where they can carry them. If McAuliffe and his fellow Democrats retain control of the state government, further restrictions will probably pass. If Youngkin wins or Republicans capture control of one of the two legislature chambers, new gun restrictions become less likely. The newly-unearthed comments could upend this dynamic by further motivating gun-rights advocates to turn out and vote against McAuliffe. In an off-year election where the president’s party tends to underperform and polls indicating a very close race, the movement could be enough to make a difference in the outcome.
McAullife’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
Matthew Wolking, a Youngkin spokesman, told The Reload McAuliffe’s comments were evidence gun owners should vote for the Republican.
“From his long partnership with Michael Bloomberg to his plans to ban and confiscate guns, Terry McAuliffe is the most anti-Second Amendment politician in America,” he said. “If McAuliffe gets another four years in power, Virginians’ rights will be in jeopardy. That’s why folks who care about protecting our Constitution are voting for Glenn Youngkin.”
McAuliffe’s 2019 comments include further insight into how he negotiated the 2016 compromise bill with the Republicans, who controlled the statehouse. While Everytown for Gun Safety president John Feinblatt slammed him as endangering “gun violence survivors and endangers the safety of all Virginians,” McAuliffe argued he got the better of the deal. He said Attorney General Mark Herring (D.), who is currently seeking re-election despite controversy over his use of blackface at a college party, gave him leverage by unilaterally blocking those with out-of-state gun-carry permits from carrying in Virginia despite no evidence the practice was dangerous.
“My Attorney General ended that,” McAuliffe said, “but it then gave me leverage to negotiate because no one has ever come into Virginia, in Virginia’s history, with a concealed permit and hurt anybody in Virginia.”
He claimed that leverage allowed him to pass a bill requiring those subject to a domestic violence protection order to surrender their firearms or face further felony charges. Despite the tradeoff, Feinblatt described the bill as McAuliffe cutting “a backroom deal with the NRA” and said the group, which spent more than $2.4 million backing Democrats in a failed attempt to flip control of the statehouse during the 2015 election, “expected more from him.”
McAuliffe was not friendly towards the NRA in his 2019 comments, though. He said the lack of new gun laws in response to mass shootings, including Sandy Hook and Parkland, was “disgraceful.” He blamed the NRA for blocking his favored gun-control policies in Virginia and at the federal level but also said he was proud to receive the group’s lowest rating.
“The NRA is too powerful in the Congress,” he said. “They’re based in Virginia. When I ran for governor, I was proud. I was the first guy to get an ‘F’ rating from them. I was damn proud of it. I ran commercials. I said I wish there was a lower rating than ‘F.'”
But he seemed out of touch with federal gun restrictions at the event. He lamented a lack of action on bump stocks in the wake of the 2017 mass shooting in Las Vegas.
“It is disgraceful, what’s happened in this country, that we can’t get anything done. Let’s think about it. After Newtown, Connecticut, 30 children and three adults killed. Nothing gets done,” McAuliffe said. “Then we have the issue out in Vegas on bump stocks. How hard is that? To deal with bump stocks?”
However, the Trump administration had already announced it would unilaterally ban not just the sale of bump stocks but also their passion in December of 2018. The rule went into effect on March 25th, 2018–just a few days after McAuliffe claimed nothing had been done about them. Gun-rights activists are currently challenging the ban in court, with some success, but it remains in effect to this day.
McAuliffe’s campaign did not respond to questions about his bump stock comments.
Election day in Virginia is on November 2nd, but early voting throughout the state has already begun.