In a calculated political move, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe of Virginia signed into law on Feb. 26 a series of gun bills that greatly expand the rights of out-of-state permit holders.
McAuliffe suggested the bills would usher in a "new era" of gun legislation in the state, according to The Washington Post.
But the new bills should be seen for what they are: political opportunism that puts public safety and law enforcement at risk, and which will probably not end up doing much to cement McAuliffe’s legacy.
Not surprisingly, the governor has lost the support of gun control advocates. They've accused McAuliffe of betraying their hard-earned victory in December 2015, when Attorney General Mark Herring no longer recognized concealed-carry permits from states with lax gun laws.
As John Feinblatt of The Washington Post points out, this was just an enforcement of existing Virginia law. But not even a month later, McAuliffe reversed Herring’s action and signed off on a law that would recognize concealed carry permits from almost every state.
This presents a risk for law enforcement -- and public safety in general -- because some states grant permits to convicted abusers and stalkers. Standards vary widely, which is why law enforcement organizations around the U.S. oppose this type of legislation at the federal level -- something the NRA has sought for years.
The bills reportedly contain a fix to this problem by ensuring that abusers subject to protective orders could not legally have weapons and would have to give up weapons they currently own, but there is no mechanism or procedure in the law to confirm that an abuser has given up his weapons.
Ultimately, the bills were mostly a win for the NRA, whose victory lap on public radio set back the signing of the legislation for a few weeks, The Washington Post reports.
But McAuliffe's support of these bills may end up winning him fewer friends at the NRA than expected.
No matter your political persuasion, there is something inherently unsettling about an executive’s willingness to take the completely opposite position to one they took one month beforehand.
The situation reeks of brass-knuckles lobbying and opportunism.
Additionally, McAuliffe has gained a negative reputation among opponents of gun control during his time in office. Unless he is now going to be consistently coming up to bat for expanded gun rights in the state, he is not going to gain support from gun control opponents.
We will have to wait and see what the ultimate effect of Virginia’s new legislation is. But without a doubt, the NRA got much of what it wanted and gun control advocates did not. The facts will soon bear themselves out, and McAuliffe may be forced to reverse his own decision again in a month or two.