Gun-Control Group Dropping $100,000 into Virginia Elections in Last-Minute Push

Everytown
Two men wear 'Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America' T-shirts at a Fourth of July celebration in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The nonprofit organization merged in 2014 with 'Everytown for Gun Safety.' Everytown is dropping a new $100,000 contribution into Virginia political funds in order to back Democratic candidates supporting gun reform. Robert Alexander/Getty

The gun-control group Everytown for Gun Safety announced on Wednesday it will pour an additional $100,000 into the Virginia general election to promote candidates who support new gun safety legislation.

Virginia has already become a heated battleground in the debate over gun control, with gun-rights groups such as the National Rifle Association (NRA) and gun-control groups launching pressure campaigns and political ads to influence the upcoming elections on November 5, when the state's entire General Assembly will be on the ballot.

The outsize push for gun reform in the state, an unusually focused agenda for national interest groups, comes after a gunman stormed a municipal building in Virginia Beach in May. The shooter, a longtime city employee, killed 12 people and injured several others. He was himself killed in a firefight with police officers responding to the scene.

Several days after the incident, Governor Ralph Northam, a Democrat, announced he would convene a special legislative session to address gun violence. Following the announcement, attention from groups on both sides of the debate entered the fray, seeking to compel legislators to support their respective agendas. The NRA even "set up shop" inside the conference room of the speaker of the House of Delegates, Republican Kirk Cox, and engaged in a massive pressure campaign involving grassroots supporters to scuttle the effort, which included town halls attended by hundreds of residents.

As a result, the session lasted less than two hours, and no votes were held on any gun-control proposals.

Since then, large amounts of money have continued to roll into the state, attempting to influence next week's elections which will pit many incumbents against a slate of gun violence prevention advocates endorsed by groups such as Everytown.

Last month, the NRA dropped $200,000 into the political action committee of state Representative Todd Gilbert, the House majority leader. Earlier this month, the gun-control group Giffords announced its own massive spend: $300,000 on ads in key legislative races.

Former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, the group's namesake, held a press conference in September outside the NRA's headquarters in Fairfax, Virginia, endorsing a raft of candidates aligned with the group's mission to pass new gun-control legislation, a mix of incumbents and challengers.

Giffords, Everytown and other groups are hoping they can outmatch the political clout of the NRA, which has traditionally acted as a firewall against transient pushes for gun control.

After Colorado adopted new gun-control legislation in 2013, the NRA helped lead a campaign, on which it spent hundreds of thousands of dollars, to successfully recall two Democratic state senators who supported the efforts. The Republican victors were themselves ousted the following year, but the narrative after the Colorado recall was one of political caution, not reform.

Everytown was founded by the billionaire former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, who himself opposed the NRA's recall efforts in Colorado.

Democratic Presidential Candidates Attend Gun Violence Forum In Las Vegas
Former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords arrives at the 2020 Gun Safety Forum hosted by gun control activist groups Giffords and March for Our Lives at Enclave on October 2, 2019 in Las Vegas, Nevada. Nine Democratic presidential candidates are taking part in the forum to address gun violence one day after the second anniversary of the massacre at the Route 91 Harvest country music festival in Las Vegas when a gunman killed 58 people in the deadliest mass shooting in recent U.S. history. Ethan Miller/Getty

As the legislative winds shift, in part due to the NRA's internal crises which are hobbling its monopoly on gun-related political influence, groups like Everytown are seeking to capitalize on an opportunity to entrench support among voters more receptive to gun control.

According to the Virginia Public Access Project, Everytown has spent over $1 million during this election cycle on Democratic candidates and committees. This dwarfs the nearly $300,000 the NRA has spent supporting Republicans this year.

In a statement to Newsweek, Everytown President John Feinblatt said that "Republican lawmakers sided with the gun lobby over the safety of the Commonwealth, and over the final days of the election, we're going to make sure every Virginian knows it."

The $100,000 contribution from Everytown announced on Wednesday will be divided evenly among the House and Senate Democratic caucuses. The group is also launching a new digital ad targeting Republicans for their inaction during the legislative session. This is part of a larger $700,000 digital advertising campaign that Everytown has embarked upon during this election cycle.

In response to Feinblatt's comment, the NRA told Newsweek in a written statement that the gun-control organizations "are backed by distant billionaires, not local interests."

"These elitists funnel money into our communities to prop-up weak candidates defined by one trait: their willingness to bow to the billionaire's gun control agenda, even if it turns great places—like Virginia—into New York City," Jason Ouimet, the executive director of the NRA's political arm, said. "The NRA relies upon its own membership, not Bloomberg's New York money."

During the 2018 midterms, the NRA was outspent by gun-control organizations for the first time in the key metric of independent expenditures, according to OpenSecrets.org.

Gun-Control Group Dropping $100,000 into Virginia Elections in Last-Minute Push | U.S.