The Virginia Governor's Race, Guns, and Sheriffs
A lot of people today are talking about how the Virginia governor’s race hinged on school boards and the alleged scourge of “CRT,” a whipped-up frenzy by Republican forces designed to get the white parents all riled up. I’m not here to burst that bubble. I’m not a political pundit nor an expert on school boards nor an expert on Virginia, a state I have visited a mere handful of times.
I am here to add to the conversation, which is the under-looked power of the gun lobby – specifically the “no compromise” gun lobby and Virginia’s sheriffs, who have consistently supported extending gun rights and fed into racist fears that seem, unquestionably, linked to the panic around Beloved and CRT and white parents worried their kids will come home talking about white people being racist.
In January of 2020, tens of thousands of open-carrying gun rights advocates gathered in front of the Virginia state capitol to protest what were relatively modest gun control measures the newly-Democratic majority state government has pledged to support. (The measures included background checks, bans on certain tpyes of weapons and ammo, plus some form of a red flag law.) They swarmed the streets, many protestors (mostly white) wearing tactical gear and openly carrying long guns, reminding everyone of Charlottesville in 2017. (Local lefty groups decided not to counter-protest for fear of violence.)
The crowd included the usual suspects: Proud Boys, Alex Jones, and other local militia groups. (Black gun owners were arrested around the capitol building, but no white ones.) The same grassroots movement was also linked to counties declaring themselves “Second Amendment Sanctuaries.”
And, of course, there were sheriffs.
The sheriff of York-Poquoson, J.D. “Danny” Diggs, was a featured speaker. Sheriff Diggs called all the protestors “patriots,” language we now understand. Another sheriff, Grayson County Sheriff Richard Vaughan, said that he would “deputize” every citizen in his county in order to protect their right to own any and all guns. (Sheriffs can deputize people, but that’s a subject for another post.) Culpeper County Sheriff Scott Jenkins – a member of Protect American Now – made a similar remark: “I plan to properly screen and deputize thousands of our law-abiding citizens to protect their constitutional right to own firearms.”
According to Jenkins, when asked about this comment later:
“My intent was to swear in thousands of auxiliary deputy sheriffs and make it legal for them to possess the weapons that they're trying to ban and restrict,” Jenkins said.
Could we see Youngkin’s victory as an extension of gun-rights advocacy? Over 50 sheriffs in Virginia – most of them – supported his campaign.
Below is a selection of social media.
There was also a great deal of lobbying by gun groups, from the NRA (which is more conscious of avoiding links to militia-type groups) to no compromise groups like Gun Owners of America and local Second Amendment groups. Indeed, the Virginia election was about history and education, including how to frame that history, but as we heard in the Supreme Court today in the arguments for New York State Rifle & Pistol Association v. Bruen, guns are an inextricable part of the history of racism, Reconstruction, and the Civil War in the United States, something Professor Carol Anderson talks about wonderfully in her book. Just like in the school board debates over CRT, the debate over guns is a debate over the history of this country and what it will mean for the future, for all the children in the future.