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Candidates sharply disagree on guns in Virginia gov’s race

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Lt. Gov. Ralph Northam, left, and G OP gubernatorial candidate Ed Gillespie, have a light moment on stage at the Omni Homestead Resort in Hot Springs, Va., Saturday, July 22, 2017. The two major party candidates in Virginia’s closely watched race for governor clashed at their first debate over President Donald Trump, health care, immigration, and social issues. ( Bob Brown/Richmond Times-Dispatch via AP)

RICHMOND, Va. (AP) — The two major party candidates in Virginia’s race for governor sharply disagree when it comes to guns.

Republican Ed Gillespie has an A rating from the National Rifle Association. He pledged to “oppose any and all attempts to weaken the Second Amendment.”

Democrat Ralph Northam said he favors stricter controls on gun ownership. He’s backed by former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group as well as by former Democratic Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, who was grievously wounded in a 2011 shooting.

The positions play against type. Northam grew up hunting on Virginia’s Eastern Shore and owns two shotguns.

Gillespie wrote in his 2006 book that he doesn’t own a gun and recently declined to answer whether that was still the case.

THE ISSUE:

Debates about guns take up a significant amount of time each legislative session and groups on both sides inject serious amounts of cash into the political process. The NRA has already spent more than $750,000 supporting Republicans this election year, while former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group, Everytown for Gun Safety, has pledged to spend at least $1 million helping Democrats.

A number of gun-related issues are decided at the state level, including whether to allow people who have obtained a protective order against an abuser to be able to carry a concealed handgun without a permit. Earlier this year, Democratic Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed legislation allowing that — against the wishes of the GOP-controlled General assembly.

Democrats in the legislature have pushed unsuccessfully for universal background checks, including mandatory checks at gun shows.

Governors also can take unilateral action on guns, like McAuliffe did in banning guns from certain state-owned office buildings by executive order.

Guns on campuses are also a regular and poignant point of discussion due to the 2007 mass shooting at Virginia Tech. Liberty University President Jerry Falwell Jr. has in recent years urged students at his Lynchburg-based school to carry concealed handguns.

And currently, the gun-related discussion has revolved around “bump stocks,” used recently by a gunman in Las Vegas to increase the rate of fire of semi-automatic weapons during the worst mass shooting in U.S. history.

WHERE THE CANDIDATES STAND:

In addition to supporting universal background checks, Northam opposes allowing people who obtain a protective order against an abuser to be able to carry a concealed handgun without a permit. He called Liberty’s push for more guns on campus “absurd.”

“We have to use some common sense and we have to stand up as a society and really support responsible gun ownership,” Northam said.

Gillespie thinks it’s possible to “respect” each college’s unique culture while protecting the rights of law-abiding citizens to carry guns. He did not respond to other specific questions about his policy on guns except to say that he would “uphold our Constitution and protect Virginians’ 2nd Amendment rights.”

Gun-rights advocate Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League, said both candidates have shifted on gun issues. He noted that Northam used to vote occasionally in favor of pro-gun legislation as a state senator. He said Gillespie has been “evolving” into a more pro-gun candidate.

Libertarian Cliff Hyra supports both universal background checks and allowing people who have obtained a protective order to carry a concealed handgun without a permit.

All three candidates expressed openness to banning “bump stocks” like those used by the Las Vegas gunman.

“If there’s a device that allows you to circumvent that law, I think it’s perfectly legitimate to regulate and ban that device,” Gillespie said.

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This is the fifth in a series that will look at issues facing Virginia ahead of the Nov. 7 election.

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