On Thursday night at Virginia Tech, the site where 33 people were massacred by gun violence in 2007, Virginia gubernatorial candidates Terry McAuliffe (D) and Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli (R) squared off over solutions for countering gun violence in their final debate.
McAuliffe highlighted his support for universal background checks, a popular reform that’s been considered politically dead thanks to the lobbying strength of pro-gun groups.
“As governor, I want to make sure communities are safe, I never want to see another Newtown or Aurora, Virginia Tech ever again,” McAuliffe said.
Cuccinelli has emphasized that during his time as attorney general, the state has excelled at screening people with mental illnesses from purchasing guns and prosecuting those with illegal gun possession. He also said he wants to increase funding for mental health services.
“We need to do more in that direction to make sure less of those tragedies happen because they’re all tied to mental health failures,” Cuccinelli said at one point during Thursday’s debate. “I also would note that I am a strong advocate of enforcing our gun laws Virginia is literally one of the best states in the country to do that and I’ll continue to do that as governor. I’m an “A” rated NRA candidate and I’m running against the only “F” rated candidate running statewide and that’s Terry McAuliffe.”
When asked if they supported arming teachers and professors as a way to deter shooting massacres, McAuliffe said he did not think educators should be armed while Cuccinelli merely touted his “A” rating from the NRA.
Pro-gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association and their pro-gun restriction counterparts like Americans for Responsible Solutions and Bloomberg’s groups have been sinking money into last-minute ads attacking the McAuliffe, Cuccinelli and other candidates for office in Virginia.
“The gun show loophole — it means anyone can buy a gun without a background check: the dangerously mentally ill, criminals — endangering our families,” one Independence USA super PAC ad said while showing pictures of gunmen who performed shooting massacres. Cuccinelli, the ad says, is “too extreme for Virginia.”
Ads from the groups have also touched on lower-ticket races in the state, like the attorney general race between state Sen. Mark Obenshain (R) and state Sen. Mark Herring (D).
After the debate Mark Kelly, the husband of former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), who was the target of a shooting massacre in early 2011, hosted a conference call with supporters of Americans for Responsible Solutions. In the call, Kelly sought to tie Cuccinelli’s opposition to background checks to other issues.
“Ken Cuccinelli is the Republican nominee for governor and in 2012 he was one of only three attorneys general across the country to oppose renewing the Violence Against Women Act, which protects women and their families from domestic violence,” Kelly said. “So it’s important to note that the Republican was against renewing the Violence Against Women Act. Additionally Mr. Cuccinelli opposed closing gun show loophole, he opposed background checks on gun sales even though over 90 percent of Virginians support expanding background checks to prevent criminals, domestic abusers and the seriously and the severely mentally ill from getting guns.”