Thursday, May 3, 2018

Primary campaigns battle over guns -- pro and con -- May 3, 2018 column


A Virginia man made news doing something utterly legal and routine.

Dan Helmer, an Army veteran, went to a gun show in Northern Virginia and bought a semiautomatic rifle similar to the one he carried in Iraq and Afghanistan in under 10 minutes -- without a background check.

He could have been someone with deadly intentions, but Helmer was making a point about lax gun laws.

He’s one of six Democrats competing in the June 12 primary for the prize of competing in November against Rep. Barbara Comstock, the Republican incumbent representing the 10th District.

Helmer demonstrated how easy it is for someone showing only a Virginia ID to buy what he calls “an incredibly dangerous piece of weaponry that’s meant for war,” adding the gun show in Chantilly was less than two miles from a school.

It took him less time than buying a cup of coffee.

Federal law requires licensed gun dealers to conduct background checks, but the “gun show loophole” allows non-licensed sellers or private sellers to bypass background checks.

Helmer’s campaign surreptitiously recorded the transaction and posted the video online. It promptly went viral.

“Weapons of war don’t belong on our streets,” he says.

 Comstock was a top recipient in the House of National Rifle Association contributions in 2016. Election trackers say she’s vulnerable in a district where Hillary Clinton beat Donald Trump by 10 points.

The primary campaigns of 2018 increasingly are a battle over guns. Democrats fight among themselves over who’s tougher on gun control while Republicans go after each other on who’s stronger on the 2nd Amendment. 

Democrat Karen Powers Mallard, a reading teacher from Virginia Beach making her first bid for Congress, used a video to show her commitment to ridding the streets of assault weapons. 

She took a saw to her husband’s AR-15 – and videoed its destruction. Her husband dropped off the gun pieces at the police station -- but not before gun rights advocates blasted his wife online.

Mallard’s competitor in the 2nd District Democratic primary is Elaine Luria, a Naval Academy graduate and retired Navy commander, who, like Mallard, favors tougher gun control.

But Rep. Scott Taylor, the Republican incumbent, is a former Navy SEAL who opposes stricter gun control laws. The race leans Republican, election trackers say.

Sometimes contests get nasty. Helmer criticized state Sen. Jennifer Wexton, the only Democratic candidate who has elected office experience, for supporting a legislative compromise that expanded the rights of people with concealed-carry handgun permits.

Wexton has an F rating from the NRA. She said Helmer doesn’t know what it’s like to be in the legislative trenches. She has raised more money than others in the race and has more endorsements from fellow lawmakers, including Gov. Ralph Northam.  

Primary season begins in earnest this month with contests in 11 states. Virginia is among 17 states with primaries in June, the busiest month. There are none in July, 14 in August and five in September, the National Conference of State Legislatures reports.

The gun issue cuts both ways, as Trump’s fourth appearance before the NRA in four years indicates. The NRA invested $30 million in Trump’s 2016 campaign, and despite his pledging to “do something” to stop gun violence, he hasn’t. His frequent campaign rallies keep his base motivated to vote in November and in 2020.

One of the more interesting gun-centric GOP races is the gubernatorial primary in Georgia. Secretary of State Brian Kemp just released an ad in which he sits surrounded by guns, rubbing a cloth over a shotgun, while he quizzes a teenager named Jake, “a young man interested in one of my daughters.”

Kemp then points the shotgun in Jake’s direction. It’s supposed to be funny.

Last month, another would-be governor, West Point grad and Army combat veteran Hunter Hill, aired an ad called “Liberals won’t like this” that showed him loading an assault rifle.   

He’s surely right, but will they vote?

In off-year elections, people tend to snooze through primaries and don’t bother to vote. This year could be different, with Democrats energized and Parkland students keeping the issue alive. But only those who actually cast ballots have a say in who wins.

©2018 Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved. 30

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