February 28, 2020
By Neal S. Shera
It would be an understatement to call the results of the November 5, 2019 elections in the state of Virginia surprising. While mostly a blue state at the federal level of politics the story was very different in the composition with its state legislators. Now, the law-abiding citizens are fighting an uphill battle to protect their 2nd Amendment rights from an emboldened opposition. How did both chambers of the legislature flip to being controlled by the same party as the governor? What role did pro 2nd Amendment advocacy groups play in this outcome, especially the National Rifle Association (NRA) and are they going to be effective at preventing repressive laws from being past?
If one was to listen to the mainstream media outlets it sounds like its simply just a shift in the political demographics within the state. That is far from the truth. There was a massive influx of outside money that was used to fund the campaigns of gun-control advocates. Most of this money came from groups funded by Michael Bloomberg. Virginia could be very easily categorized as a test run for his campaign operations in his bid to become president. (For more about Bloomberg please read Mark Chestnut’s article, which appeared in issue five of this year, focusing on him.) Also, a comprehensive democrat redistricting plan to concentrate and place new liberal voters in high population centers, with the effect of creating more left-wing state representatives, was also in play. Obviously, there was a massive failure of the Republican Party of Virginia to organize and find candidates that allowed the Democrats to run unopposed in 33 districts. All of this led the abysmal voter turnout (statewide voter participation was 40%) by pro-gun voters that were the last line of defense.
Which now leads us to the National Rifle Association. One would have thought, that this being the state their headquarters resides in, they would have been preforming their best Paul Revere impression to prevent the outcome. Why not? The organization would likely welcome a high-profile issue to fight so as to reaffirm its position within the community. This would bring some disenfranchised members back to their camp, and help flood the organization with money to fight the upcoming tsunami of anti-gun legislation coming in the next legislative session. Yet, one can also just as easily apply the principle of Hanlon’s Razor to the NRA just as well. Simply put it reads: “Never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity.” There are also many who would accuse the NRA of sitting on their hands as these events unfolded. The final judgement is up to the individual reader as the NRA was contacted several times from January 24th thru February 11th for comment. Their department of public relations never directly answered any of our questions, although Kathy at the desk did provide some information.
Starting with our first question of what actions did the organization take from June, after the primaries showed multiple unopposed races, up till the night of elections? The NRA never directly answered this question and only by contacting various known pro-gun individuals within the state that we learned of the usual methods of phone solicitations and typical fundraising activities were conducted. Nothing out of the ordinary from any other election cycle.
After the election was over and the gun community was picking up the pieces and trying to formulate a plan an interesting series of events unfolded involving the NRA. The first was brought up in an editorial article by Firearms News on January 21 of this year that citied a quote by the NRA-Institute for Legislative Action Virginia State Director D. J. Spiker used in a Reuters news story. The quote contained a line about “work to find compromise”. This must have raised alarm bells with multiple individuals regarding the context of that statement. Even more surprising is that the quote has since been removed from that press release with no accompanying editor’s note for clarification. Firearms News learned of the removal when it contacted the NRA in order to request an official clarification about this statement.
Since no source will go on record regarding the meaning behind that statement, any number of conclusions could be drawn from that statement. Among those theories, it could easily be that the NRA made this statement so they can later claim victory if any of the proposed Virginia bills fail to pass through the legislative process. A sort of minimal effort and maximum visibility for the pro-gun community approach. The complete opposite concept could be that they actually have no problem with restrictive gun control laws. This is a major reason in why they are having major problems with their membership. They cannot afford to operate in a bubble. The NRA should be more open and concise with its message.
The NRA also disclosed the equaling interesting fact that this was a written statement provided to Reuters by Spiker. So, this was not an off the cuff utterance during a phone call or other rapid exchange. At the time of this article’s writing, a copy of the original statement hasn’t been provided so the overall context can be viewed. It is also worth noting that Mr. Spiker has only recently been promoted to his position as Virginia State Director. His predecessor, Mr. Christopher Kopacki, who oversaw operations until at least of the time elections were held, has since been promoted to Deputy Managing Director of the NRA-ILA. No official date of Mr. Kopacki’s or Mr. Spiker’s promotions were given so no timeline regarding the situation can be provided. Again, neither could be reached directly for comment on the matter and no written response has been received up till this point either. All other attempts to talk to other Virginia NRA personnel in the ILA or Political Victory Fund (PVF) have only received the referral to contact NRA Headquarters. All of this makes it clear that the NRA does not like answering any questions unless it is forced to do so as they withhold most voluntary information.
Now, we shall look at the actions taken by the NRA after the elections. It is known that there was a change in personnel but there is no evidence to support that it was done to help refocus the organization’s efforts. In fact, the NRA seemed very quiet until this past January. First, on January 8th, the NRA held its first meeting of the year by its board of directors in Virginia. Outside sources who attended the event disclosed that there was no open discussion of the situation but these meetings frequently go into executive session so there is no way of knowing what, if any plan was discussed. The meeting concluded on January 11th. Now on January 13th, the NRA did organize and highly publicized an activity at the state capitol with attendees where noticeable blue shirts and Magpul handed out about 1,000 polymer AR-15 30-round magazines to those present, which was a generous action on the part of the company. How the NRA intends to really fight the more than 50 state bills involving guns that are currently proposed is still very much a mystery to anyone outside the organization. Draw your own conclusions with the few pieces of information provided here. It is not known what actual effort the NRA can mount as they try to get a handle on all of the internal and external issues they are facing. It was reported on January 31st that the NRA Chief of Staff, Joshua L. Powell, has departed with no official statement yet from the NRA.
Now there is a long history of parallel operations by the various state and national gun rights organizations when it comes to defending the 2nd Amendment. Yet the pro-gun community is very much about grassroots activism. The reaction by local communities and dozens of state counties proves the fight is not over. Also, there is some real coordination going on between state and national groups. On January 20th, the Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) along with efforts from the Gun Owners of America (GOA) organized a massive rally in Richmond. While the official figure tops out at 25,000 many who were in attendance believe it was much larger. This was all done with a much smaller amount of funding and only through the most modest means of social media and word of mouth. People came from all over the nation and peacefully made their single opinion known to the Virginian politicians. This rally received far greater coverage and attention than the one conducted by the NRA.
If there is any immediate lesson to be taken from the 2019 Virginia elections, it’s that complacency will be the undoing of the 2nd Amendment. While the grassroots activism is in full swing and being heard, it remains to be seen if it will have any real effect on the proposed legislation. The Virginia House has passed seven gun-control bills and they are likely to eventually become law later this year. Those who believe in the 2nd Amendment across the country should not blindly believe that their best interests in mind. Everyone must get involved before Virginia is repeated across the country. The rally in Virginia on the 20th of January might have been the decisive factor in the Virginia Senate's vote to kill an “assault weapon” ban for the time being.