McAuliffe likely faces steep climb in toughening Virginia's gun laws


(WJLA) – This past Saturday marked one year since the mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., that left 26 people dead, including 20 kids sitting at their desks.

Despite the almost immediate plea from President Barack Obama for Congress to enact tougher standards such as universal background checks for gun purchasers, a measure that had more than 80 percent national approval in poll after poll, little has happened toward that end amid fierce resistance from the National Rifle Association.

And then there’s Virginia, where a similar fate likely awaits.

Gov.-elect Terry McAuliffe (D) raised plenty of eyebrows in his final debate against attorney general and Republican candidate Ken Cuccinelli when, replying to the latter’s point that McAuliffe had received an “F” grade from the McLean-based NRA, said, “I don’t care what grade I got from the NRA – as governor, I want to keep our communities safe.”

Among those whose ears perked up was former Gov. Douglas Wilder, who previously had granted McAuliffe a much-coveted endorsement.

“He has no idea as to how impressed I was with that,” Wilder said recently{ }over the phone before recounting a conversation he had with McAuliffe soon after the debate. “I told him, I said, ‘Terry, I don’t want you to think that it changed my view in terms of endorsement, but it strengthened it. As I said to you, I wanted a reason to have to say that this is why I’m endorsing and supporting you. I want to be able to say that to the people of Virginia.’

“And he didn’t really try to paper it over. He said what he had to say. . .To take on a powerful lobbying group like the NRA, in Virginia, is not the easiest thing to do.”

Neither is helping get gun legislation passed, which is exactly what Wilder did in 1993 when he successfully championed the one-gun-a-month law.

“I decided that Virginia had become the gun capital and we didn’t need that,” Wilder said, “and consequently we sought to change that, and we did.”

Nearly two years ago, however, one of Wilder’s signature accomplishments was repealed with Democratic votes along with those of Republicans.

Republicans still have firm control of the House of Delegates in the General Assembly. The Senate’s a 20-20 split, which means newly elected Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam would have the tie-breaking vote.

Issues related to mental health likely will be debated, especially in light of the Creigh Deeds episoide with his now-deceased son, but concrete progress on gun control, especially the gun-show loophole where private sellers are not required to conduct background checks, is a simple matter of numbers – that, and the influence of the NRA.

Sunday in his weekly address, the President again made his appeal for stricter measures.

“It will come from you – it will come from American people,” Obama said. “. . .It must change and it can change.”

Easy for him to say, especially when it comes to Virginia.