How much power does the NRA have in Virginia?

Posted at 12:00 AM, May 17, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-17 23:32:08-04

NORFOLK, Va. - Following the shooting in Parkland, Florida this past February, there were many calls to action for lawmakers to act on gun violence. In Virginia, many of the calls have gone unanswered.

Lawmakers in the General Assembly didn't pass any meaningful gun bills during their recent session. Dr. Quentin Kidd, the director of the Wason Center for Public Policy at Christopher Newport University, says both sides are dug in on the issue. "Gun control is just this very polarizing issue," Kidd said. "Before candidates ever get to the General Assembly they have staked out polar opposite positions."

Polling from earlier this year says 84% of Virginians support background checks for private gun sales. In addition, 65% say they support banning assault style weapons. Philosophically, 54% say it's more important to control who can buy a gun, while 41% say it's more important to protect the rights of gun owners. "We are in a stalemate right now in the General Assembly," Kidd said.

Democratic Governor Ralph Northam made gun control a key part of his address on Inauguration Day. "I'm ready to work with you to make Virginia safer by passing smart reforms that keep guns away from people who shouldn't have them," Northam said.

Both chambers in the General Assembly are controlled by Republicans. Despite slim margins, Kidd says the NRA has sway over those lawmakers. "[Republican] candidates running for office really care what the NRA thinks," he said.

It's hard to find estimates on just how many NRA members there are in Virginia, but its headquarters is located in Northern Virginia. While there are questions over whether the NRA is too influential, Del. Nick Freitas delivered a fiery response on the House floor last March. "It starts with a certain amount of respect. It starts with assuming a certain degree of not assuming that the only reason why we believe in the Second Amendment is because the NRA paid us off," Freitas said. "If that's the sort of logic you want to use, why don't you go take a look at how much money the NRA spends and how much money Planned Parenthood spends?"

Freitas is running to challenge Sen. Tim Kaine this fall, but says his speech came from frustration over name calling by Democrats. His speech has millions of views online. "What's influential on me is that you have the right to defend yourself," he said in an interview with News 3. "The NRA also happens to agree with that position."

Republicans, like Freitas, say the focus should be on protecting kids at school. Currently, a committee of lawmakers is reviewing school safety, but it's not focusing on guns. "How can you have a discussion about gun violence without talking about guns?" asked Sen. Mamie Locke, a Democrat from Hampton. "That makes no sense."

"I'm every bit as dedicated to ensure that our students are safe in schools, but what won't work is if you're telling me the only solution is to disarm law abiding citizens, I'm going to be concerned about that," Freitas said.

The committee is expected to release its findings later this year. For now, Kidd doesn't see the stalemate ending unless there are more political changes. "Until there is a Democratic controlled legislature or until the Republicans win executive branch offices, you're going to have a stalemate on gun control."