The political winds changed this week across the country. Republicans managed to rebound from their loss of the White House and Senate just about a year ago. They pulled off upset wins in a number of New Jersey races and throughout the Virginia election.
With the polarized nature of American politics generally, and the gun issue in particular, this has significant repercussions for gun owners. We do a deep dive into the indicators that guns played a significant, if not leading, role in the political upsets. And, we examine what the likely outcome of the reversal of fortune for Republicans, especially in Virginia, will actually be in practice.
This past week saw a whole host of political upsets in the off-year elections held in various states across the country.
In Virginia, Republicans took control of the Governor’s office for the first time in 12 years en route to a total sweep of executive offices while also retaking control of the House of Delegates. In New Jersey, incumbent Governor Phil Murphy (D.) came dangerously close to losing his reelection bid to lead the deeply blue state. At the same time, a complete political outsider unseated the Democratic president of the state’s senate.
To be clear, gun politics were not the primary focus of these campaigns. Bread and butter issues like education, public safety, and the economy were heavily focused on and dominated the news cycles. However, gun politics did prove to be influential in a few key ways.
In the case of Glenn Youngkin (R.), the businessman turned Governor-elect, guns were not an issue that loomed large in his campaign until they were thrust upon him. He conspicuously did not receive endorsements from the NRA or the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) because he would not fill out their issue surveys.
Seizing upon this, a shadowy liberal PAC funded by the state’s largest power company ran ads in conservative areas of the state claiming that Youngkin was soft on guns in an effort to suppress the pro-gun vote. Their gambit may have backfired, as the uncovering of this led to a major push from the VCDL to turn out the vote among gun owners.
We now have some evidence that gun owners did, in fact, come out in support of Youngkin. A CNN exit poll shows Virginia gun owners voting for Youngkin over McAuliffe at a rate of two-to-one.
In New Jersey, a local truck driver with no political experience was able to unseat the State Senate President, Steve Sweeney (D.), one of the most influential figures in New Jersey politics. Edward Durr (R.), the newly-elected state senator, said his decision to enter politics was motivated by New Jersey’s may-issue—functionally no-issue—concealed carry regime.
“What motivated me more than anything to get into politics was not being able to get a concealed carry gun permit,” Durr told POLITICO.
Gun owners should not expect a major push for pro-gun initiatives in Virginia despite Republicans taking control of the Governor’s mansion and the House of Delegates, though. They’ll likely have to settle for knowing that the ambitious gun control agenda of Terry McAuliffe and other Virginia Democrats have been tabled for at least the next few years. While in New Jersey, the state’s hostility to gun rights is unlikely to abate anytime soon, regardless of which party gains power.
What these elections did prove, however, is the continued relevance of gun politics as a salient issue for voters (and even dark-horse candidates). It helped turn out the vote of an important constituency in Virginia despite the best efforts of some to suppress the pro-gun vote. In New Jersey, gun politics were the motivating factor for one of the most remarkable political upsets in a generation.
Analysis: What Gun Owners Should Expect After Youngkin’s Win [Member Exclusive]
By Stephen Gutowski
Glenn Youngkin and his fellow Republicans pulled off an upset in Virginia’s elections on Tuesday. The big question now is what that means for gun owners in the state.
One important thing is fairly clear already: new gun bans won’t be coming.
The possibility of an “assault weapons” ban, or even confiscation effort, has been lingering over the state since Democrats took total control of the state government in 2019. It was initially sold as a ban on possession in addition to new sales. Then it was paired back to a sales ban which passed the House of Delegates in 2020. But, it was ultimately defeated by moderate Democrats in the state senate after a grassroots campaign turned 90% of the state’s counties into Second Amendment sanctuaries.
After that, Democrats didn’t even introduce another “assault weapons” ban ahead of the election in the 2021 session. And the sponsor of the one that passed the house the year before was defeated in his primary.
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Terry McAuliffe promised to resurrect the proposal if elected.
Younkin’s campaign, on the other hand, told The Reload in October he opposes an “assault weapons” ban. And, further, his newly elected lieutenant governor Winsome Sears featured a picture of herself holding an AR-15 on her campaign signs. With Republicans also capturing control of the House of Delegates, the possibility of passing a ban on some of the most popular guns in the state is a non-starter for the foreseeable future.
That in and of itself is likely a relief for many Virginia gun owners who had the possibility of their guns being outlawed hanging over their heads for the better part of two years. But, it’s not the end of the conversation about gun policy in the state.
For one, the Democrats were able to pass other gun-control laws in 2020 even though they couldn’t get an “assault weapons” ban on the books. Democrats passed a one-handgun-a-month restriction, red flag law, universal background check bill, and empowered localities to restrict gun carry in certain locations.
Gun-rights groups have already tried, sometimes successfully, to challenge these laws in court and are going to push for their repeal in the next legislative session. They’ll likely also pursue pro-gun reforms, such as permitless gun carry.
That’s where the climb gets harder. Democrats retain control of the state senate and they aren’t up for re-election until 2023. Baring some kind of party-switching move, it’s unlikely repeals of the bills the state senate just passed a year ago will make it through the chamber baring some very difficult bipartisan bargaining. That’s even more true of sweeping new reforms. Permitless carry has rarely passed in a state where Republicans don’t control all levers of state government and Virginia is unlikely to buck that trend.
The prospects are fairly dim for big pro-gun moves under the new makeup of the state government, even with Republicans flipping the House and all of the statewide executive offices.
There is more hope for less ambitious reforms, though. Added protections for those involved in red flag gun seizures, exemptions from background check requirements for those who hold valid concealed-carry licenses, or pairing back where localities can prohibit gun carry could all be on the table. Plus, the new Republican Attorney General could change the focus of gun prosecutions or attempt to negotiate more gun-carry reciprocity deals with places such as Pennsylvania.
The pressure is off gun owners in Virginia after this election, but they shouldn’t expect a ton of gains at this point either.
On this episode, investigative reporter Tim Mak joins me to talk about his new book Misfire: Inside the Downfall of the NRA.
I first met Tim at the 2019 NRA annual meeting where he was one of the only other reporters in the room when dissident members tried to oust CEO Wayne LaPierre over allegations of corruption. He has been at the forefront of covering the NRA for the last several years and produced some of the most impactful stories about the gun-rights group. That includes breaking the news that a Russian spy had infiltrated the group as part of an influence campaign run by a top Kremlin official.
His new book is the first I’ve seen to thoroughly chronicle how it is the NRA has ended up at disaster’s doorstep and who the key players along the way were. He takes one of the first real looks at the people behind the powerhouse from Wayne LaPierre to his wife Susan to former president Oliver North. He explains not just what decisions they made but how their characters led them to make those decisions.
His book matches much of what I’ve heard for years from inside the organization as well as the testimony given in court I’ve witnessed over the past several years. It is a detailed and well-sourced book that also brings a host of new information to the fold. From now on, when somebody asks me what happened to the NRA, I’ll tell them to read this book.
Plus, Jake Fogleman and I discuss Republicans flipping Virginia red and SCOTUS hearing oral arguments in its big gun-carry case.
You can listen to the episode on your favorite podcasting app or by clicking here.
You can also watch the video podcast on our YouTube channel.
Back from the Farm
I’m back in Virginia now. The farm was a blessing. I was able to spend time with the horses, barn cat, doggo, and chickens. I love being out in the country.
I’m grateful I was also able to spend time with my family and especially my grandparents.
It could have been a bit more relaxing, of course, if there wasn’t so much freaking news this week. It had to be one of the most newsworthy weeks of the entire year when it comes to guns. The NRA hack, the elections, and the Supreme Court gun case were all big news.
It can be hard to keep up with all of that from a laptop while taking care of a farm. But, I think we did a solid job. And, we have more coming on those topics very soon too.
Also, somewhat humorously, I left Pennsylvania and followed the Flyers down I-95 (or, perhaps, vice versa) to end up at the Flyers/Caps game on Saturday night. It was the first big event I’d attended since 2019, which also happened to be the last Flyers/Caps game before the lockdowns started.
The Flyers beat the Caps in both games, to my great enjoyment.
More Coming on SCOTUS
Now that we’ve taken a close look at what this week’s elections mean for gun policy moving forward, we’re going to shift our focus to the other big news of the week: the Supreme Court’s gun-carry case. We covered how the court appears to be grasping at a new standard to decide all gun cases moving forward. Now, we’re going to look at what they’re likely to do with New York’s restrictive gun-carry law and what real-world impact that would have. Plus, we’ll do the same for the standard of review.
So, make sure you stay tuned. We have a lot more coming soon.
That’s it for now.
I’ll talk to you all again soon.