- The Washington Times - Monday, November 5, 2001

Whether Virginians elect Republican Mark Earley or Democrat Mark Warner as governor on Tuesday, one political reality is very clear when it comes to Second Amendment issues in Virginia. Politicians court anti-gun groups at their peril.

Considerable attention has focused in recent weeks on the lateness of the National Rifle Association's (NRA's) decision to urge its members to vote for Mr. Earley; the delay followed a slickly crafted effort by the Warner campaign to woo gun-rights advocates in the Old Dominion. In the end, the NRA stopped short of formally endorsing Mr. Earley because he supported a Virginia law limiting gun purchases to one a month.

But a letter sent to NRA members late last month by James Jay Baker, chairman of the NRA's Political Victory Fund, made it abundantly clear who the better candidate is. Mr. Baker gave Mr. Earley an "A-" for his voting record and position statements on gun issues. Mr. Warner, who has never held elective office, received a "C" grade for his own positions. "In our judgement, Mark Earley is clearly a better candidate for Virginia's NRA members, gun owners and sportsmen," Mr. Baker wrote. "Mark Earley has stated his support for several pro-gun reforms in Virginia, while Mark Warner has stated he would sign several expansions of current firearms restrictions." Mr. Warner, for example, "opposes reforms to Virginia's gun-rationing [one gun purchase per month] law, such as exempting holders of concealed-carry permits from the limit of one per month, despite the exhaustive background check permit holders undergo." The letter also noted that, while serving as state Democratic Party chairman in the early 1990s, Mr. Warner "made comments that were clearly hostile to the NRA and Virginia's gun owners."

By contrast, Mr. Earley "supports important reforms to Virginia's gun-rationing law," which include "exempting firearms transfers between friends and family." Mr. Baker added that Mr. Earley "also cast numerous pro-gun votes" during his 10 years in the state Senate. "He was an ally of Virginia's gun owners as attorney general, leading the way in launching a statewide Project Exile [an enormously successful program implemented in Virginia to ensure that individuals using guns in the commission of a crime receive prison time], and in fighting back against the reckless city lawsuits intended to bankrupt the gun industry." But "perhaps the clearest difference in attitude toward of fundamental rights" can be seen in the candidates' answers to a question posed during an Oct. 3 debate in Richmond, when Messrs. Earley and Warner were asked their opinion of the NRA, Mr. Baker wrote. Mr. Warner blandly replied that the NRA "is basically an organization that adequately and well represents… sportsmen." Mr. Earley, by contrast, was direct and forceful in his response: "I think the NRA is a very positive influence in Virginia, because it stands up for [the Second Amendment]. The Second Amendment is not about hunting… .The Second Amendment is about an individual's right to keep and bear arms, an individual right guaranteed as one of the fundamental rights that are in our Constitution."

Advocates of responsible gun ownership should have no doubt at all that Mark Earley is by far the superior choice for Virginia.

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