NBS Outdoor Fall Issue 2020

By John Crump

When anti-gun groups poured money into the Commonwealth of Virginia during the 2019 election cycle, they designated Virginia a gun-control testing ground. Well-funded national anti-gun-group-backed politicians won by a significant majority on election day. They promised swift, decisive action on gun control. Almost immediately after officials counted and certified all the ballots, the newly elected delegates and senators began proposing new gun-control laws. What they couldn’t have known is that their call for increased gun control would awaken a sleeping giant of grassroots pro-gun activism. Virginia was long known as a gun-friendly state before the 2019 election, and most of the state remained gun friendly, except for Northern Virginia, Tidewater, and the Richmond area. Transplants from northern states densely populated these areas, which is where anti-gun groups concentrated their efforts to take over the state legislature. Gun owners reached out to these newly elected politicians, but officials dismissed them. One anti-gun politician went as far as calling gun owners “little children.” Instead of becoming discouraged, gun owners made Virginia the epicenter of a grassroots Second Amendment movement. Paul Moog started The Virginia Citizens Defense League (VCDL) in the 1990s. The gun-rights group’s original mission was to make Virginia a shall-issue state when it came to concealed-carry permits. The VCDL was instrumental in getting preemption passed in the Commonwealth, lobbied successfully for the repeal of Virginia’s one-handgun-a-month law, and got the state to recognize other state’s concealed-handgun permits. After the 2019 election, the

group found itself in an unusual position. Instead of fighting to expand gun rights, it was struggling to protect gun rights. With the help of national groups such as Gun Owners of America (GOA), the VCDL started organizing “ At every board meeting in every county and every city, thousands of gun owners showed up to speak. ” on the local level. For years GOA has pushed for “Second Amendment sanctuary” localities across the country. On election day 2019, there were fewer than 50 Second Amendment sanctuaries across the nation. GOA, which is headquartered in Springfield Va., and the VCDL started crafting a strategy to use Second Amendment sanctuaries to nullify any new gun laws

passed in Virginia. The first thing each group did was work with grassroots activists within their localities to recruit average gun owners to join their mailing lists. The groups began sending their contact lists alerts letting them know about local board meetings firearms owners could attend to request that their locality become a Second Amendment sanctuary. At every board meeting in every county and every city, thousands of gun owners showed up to speak. Even in deep-blue counties such as Fairfax, overflow crowds spilled into parking lots. The plan was to turn up the heat on elected officials, according to Erich Pratt, senior vice president of Gun Owners of America. By activating grassroots activists, he said, gun owners could push back against the millions of dollars anti-gun organizations were funneling to the state. “Grassroots activists are among the most powerful forces in politics,” Pratt said. “It’s often said that, ‘when politicians’ feel the heat, they see the light.’ At Gun Owners of America, that’s exactly what we do. We give everyday gun owners the tools

10 • NBS OUTDOOR • Fall 2020

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