With state legislature elections approaching next month, a new poll suggests that Virginians are focused on gun policy and that a large majority favors universal background checks and red-flag style legislation.
In a Washington Post-Schar School poll of 814 registered Virginia voters, 75 percent said that gun legislation is “very important” to them. Republicans and Democrats felt almost equally as strong about the issue.
Both Democrats and Republicans in the commonwealth support universal background checks and red-flag style laws, according to the poll. It found that 88 percent of respondents supported background checks, including 95 percent of Democrats, 89 percent of independents and 81 percent of Republicans. It also found that 82 percent of respondents supported red-flag style laws: 94 percent of Democrats, 81 percent of independents and 72 percent of Republicans.
Private gun sales do not currently require background checks, but a universal background check law would also subject those sales to checks. A red-flag law would allow a judge to confiscate someone’s guns if that person is deemed to be a threat to himself or others.
“The majority of Virginians have long supported comprehensive and common-sense gun violence prevention laws, but Republicans have consistently blocked popular measures like universal background checks without even allowing floor votes by the full chamber,” Kathryn Gilley, communications director for the Virginia House Democrats, told The Center Square in an email.
“Republicans' abrupt adjournment of the special session this year proves that they have no intention of ever taking action,” Gilley said. “The only way to pass gun violence prevention laws in Virginia is by electing Democrats. Enough is enough.”
Spokespersons for Virginia House Republicans and Virginia Senate Republicans did not respond to requests for comment. However, Erich Pratt, the senior vice president of Gun Owners of America (GOA), told The Center Square via email that he questions the accuracy of this poll because it conflicts with a larger poll conducted by GOA.
“The Republican base does not support additional gun controls,” Pratt said. “While pollsters will generally build their conclusions on a few hundred respondents, Gun Owners of America surveyed more than 17,000 gun owners this year. The results showed that the Second Amendment community, which is largely the GOP base, rejects gun control: 98% said they would never vote to reelect a legislator who supports a 'red flag' bill; 92% would never vote to reelect someone who voted for a universal background check law.”
Pratt said that if Republicans start supporting gun control policies, it could cause their base to sit out the elections or vote third party. He said that red-flag laws do not reduce homicides and infringe on a person’s due process rights. Pratt warned that universal background checks could lead to gun registration.
Earlier this year, Gov. Ralph Northam proposed a comprehensive gun control package that he tried to rush through the General Assembly. Republicans declined to pass the legislation, arguing that they needed input from the Virginia State Crime Commission before passing such legislation. The Republicans referred the legislative proposals to the commission.