One of the Democrats who pushed the state to adopt new gun-control laws in 2020 lost two elections on Tuesday.
Democrat Mark Levine lost, by a sizable margin, both the primary race for lieutenant governor and his own delegate seat. He will now be out of the Virginia government altogether despite spearheading the successful 2020 effort to expand background checks to private gun sales and institute red flag laws. Levine also convinced Democrats to pass his “assault weapons” ban through the House of Delegates that same year.
But he got just above 10 percent of the vote to be the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor and lost the race for his own seat by more than 15 points.
The gun-control push he championed sparked massive grassroots backlash, which resulted in more than 90 percent of the state’s localities declaring themselves “Second Amendment sanctuaries” and tens of thousands rallying against the measures in the state capital. The reaction led Democratic senators to kill Levine’s “assault weapons” ban and may have ended Levine’s political life.
While Levine abandoned the “assault weapons” ban in 2021, he ran on his record of gun-control advocacy. Though his opponent in the delegate race, Elizabeth Bennett-Parker (D.), is a gun-control supporter backed by Moms Demand Action, she did not focus on guns and refrained from listing the issue on her campaign website. Her winning campaign instead focused on environmental and economic issues, according to ALX Now.
Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said gun-rights proponents viewed Levine’s loss as a win.
“He was a gun-control leader,” Van Cleave told The Reload. “He lost, and it wasn’t close. He got his ass kicked.”
He said he expects Bennett-Parker to vote in favor of gun-control measures but doesn’t see her having the same level of influence on the issue as Levine. He said Levine was the delegate most dedicated to putting forth new gun restrictions and advocating for their passage.
“He wasn’t just somebody that voted for gun control. A lot of the Democrats vote for it,” Van Cleave said. “He was somebody that actually put in bills and pushed them hard. That, to me, is a very different person than somebody who just votes for gun control.”
In his concession message, Levine said his campaign had tried to represent “the victims of gun violence who have none but us alive to remember them,” among others. He said he was proud of his “six-year legacy,” which included passing “lots of common-sense gun legislation” into law.
Van Cleave said it was that legacy that may have cost him his seat.
“The message I got out of Levine’s loss was gun control isn’t nearly as important to voters as he thinks it is,” he said.