By Fenit Nirappil,
Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund, the political arm of one of the nation’s biggest gun control groups, is endorsing Virginia gubernatorial contender Ralph Northam and the rest of the statewide Democratic ticket.
The group, and the Virginia chapter of its affiliated Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, is backing Northam, lieutenant governor contender Justin Fairfax and Attorney General Mark R. Herring’s re-election bid.
It is also endorsing Chris Hurst, a former Roanoke television anchor whose girlfriend was shot and killed on live television, in his bid for a House of Delegates seat . Hurst’s girlfriend, a reporter, and her cameraman were fatally shot by a former employee of the television station, who later killed himself.
All of the candidates will appear Tuesday with Everytown representatives at a formal announcement in Arlington, near the community where a week ago a gunman opened fire at a practice of the Republican congressional baseball team and wounded five people, including House Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-La.).
The action fund is a spinoff of Everytown for Gun Safety, the nation’s highest profile gun-control group that is largely bankrolled by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg. The fund poured more than $2 million into Virginia Democratic campaigns in 2015 during the party’s unsuccessful bid to regain control of the state Senate.
“Gun safety will be one of the defining issue of the Virginia election this year,” said Beth Fine, an Arlington volunteer for Moms Demand Action, adding that the endorsed candidates “understand that with rights come the responsibility to keep guns out of dangerous hands.”
Northam called for gun control in wake of the Alexandria shooting during remarks at a Democratic fundraiser in Richmond on Saturday. “We have to address these tragedies with action…and promote responsible gun ownership,” he said.
Moms Demand Action volunteers supported Northam during his primary campaign against Tom Perriello, a former member of Congress who renounced his past support for the National Rifle Association.
A spokeswoman for Everytown says it’s too early to say how much it will spend on November’s gubernatorial contest, which is being closely watched by both major political parties and is likely to draw a flood of outside spending and national attention. “We are willing to spend whatever it takes to make sure Virginians know these four candidates stand for common sense gun laws that can save lives,” said said Kate Folmar, an Everytown spokeswoman.
Everytown butted heads with outgoing Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) in 2016, after he brokered a deal that expanded the rights of concealed-carry handgun permit holders in exchange for tighter restrictions on domestic abusers and voluntary background checks at gun shows.
Gun control groups, including Everytown, decried the deal as a gift to the gun lobby. Everytown launched a social media campaign that criticized McAuliffe for expanding gun access to “dangerous people” in Virginia. At the time, a spokesman for McAuliffe, who is prevented by the state constitution from seeking consecutive terms, dismissed Everytown as a “group from New York” that does not have the interests of Virginians at heart.
The deal reversed a move by Herring to revoke the rights of hundreds of thousands of permit holders from 25 states that have looser standards for carrying weapons. Herring panned the part of the deal, and did not attend the bill signing at the governor’s mansion where Northam was present.
But Everytown isn’t holding that against Northam, who made gun control a central part of his campaign for governor. He is calling for an assault weapons ban and smart gun technology that allows only the owner to discharge the weapon.
“These are candidates who have a long history of gun violence prevention work in the commonwealth, and we absolutely think they will be the better choices for this election,” said Folmar.
Northam is running against former GOP strategist Ed Gillespie, while Fairfax faces state Sen. Jill Vogel (R-Fauquier) for lieutenant governor and Republican attorney John Adams is trying to unseat Herring. All three Republican statewide candidates embrace gun rights.