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Virginia’s 2019 Election: A Historic Moment for Saving Lives

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In Virginia, every seat in the state legislature is up for grabs this fall—time for a gun safety majority.

In the span of an hour on a Friday afternoon in Virginia Beach, a gunman murdered 12 innocent people. Mayor Bobby Dyer called May 31, 2019, “the most devastating day in the history of Virginia Beach.”

Six weeks later, in a special session of the Virginia legislature, it took Republican lawmakers only two hours to gavel the session closed—without passing safer gun laws. When they refused to act, they left survivors across the country heartbroken.

The upcoming election represents a pivotal opportunity for Virginia to elect leaders who truly understand what’s at stake. Every single seat in the legislature is up for grabs and Democrats have a real chance at gaining majorities in both houses. We can, and must, elect a new wave of gun safety champions who will do everything in their power to better protect Virginia communities.

In 2017, control of the legislature here in Richmond came down to a drawing a name from a bowl—literally. Republicans and their gun lobby donors won, continuing to stall any meaningful movement on gun laws. When even the massacre of a dozen city employees at their workplace isn’t enough to sway those in power to act, it’s clear that nothing will.

In recent years we’ve proven that the intransigence of the gun lobby can be overcome. According to the latest Gallup polling, Americans’ views of the National Rifle Association is more negative than it’s been in 25 years, with a higher percentage of Americans having an unfavorable than favorable opinion of the NRA. The NRA has also been beset by scandals and infighting in recent months, from power struggles to allegations of financial impropriety and campaign violations.

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Virginia has weak gun laws and a correspondingly high gun death rate. Someone dies from gun violence every nine hours in Virginia. That’s more than 900 Virginians dying every year, in tragedies that make the national news and in so many more that don’t. In firearm suicides, community violence, and domestic violence. In their homes and offices and on our streets.

The same day that Republican lawmakers turned their backs on gun safety by adjourning the special session, a pregnant woman was shot 13 minutes from the Capitol. Like so many other families and communities across the state and country, this woman’s family and community will never be the same.

We can’t let this election come down to chance again. In late September, former Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords set out on the campaign trail in Virginia to make that clear. Gabby’s swing through the state kicked off with former Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, supporters, and survivors gathering in front of the NRA headquarters to show support for the more than 40 gun safety candidates Giffords has endorsed in Virginia this election cycle. Then Gabby joined several candidates and their supporters to fire everyone up in the weeks before Election Day.

Candidates like Sheila Bynum Coleman, who’s running to replace House Speaker Kirk Cox—one of the NRA’s coziest allies in the state and the man responsible for ending the special session after Virginia Beach after just 90 minutes. In 2016, Sheila’s daughter was shot. Fortunately, she survived, but the trauma Sheila’s family experienced motivated her to do everything she can to prevent other Virginians from having to endure this type of grief.

Candidates like Delegate Hala Ayala, whose father was murdered when she was two years old. Hala grew up as the child of a single mother who suffered from PTSD. Hala is committed to helping tackle our nation’s gun violence crisis by passing commonsense solutions like keeping guns off school campuses and expanding background checks to keep communities safe.

Candidates like Amanda Pohl, whose opponent, Delegate Amanda Chase, threatened to “shoot down” gun safety groups on the very day that Congresswoman Giffords touched down in Virginia and who open carries on the House floor to intimidate people she doesn’t agree with.

While Mitch McConnell continues to block H.R. 8, the Bipartisan Background Checks Act of 2019, state lawmakers don’t have to wait for the Majority Leader to act. As Governor McAulliffe said, this election presents voters with the chance to “make Virginia a national leader on gun safety.”

Virginia’s weak gun laws are a choice. We have a critical opportunity in Virginia to help protect the more than eight million residents of the state whose lives are at risk because of these weak laws.

Let’s not leave the safety of Virginians up to chance this time.