- The Washington Times - Monday, September 14, 2009

RICHMOND — The National Rifle Association endorsed Republican Bob McDonnell’s campaign for governor on Monday.

The NRA’s announcement reverses its endorsement four years ago of Democrat R. Creigh Deeds, McDonnell’s opponent in this year’s governor’s race who lost the 2005 attorney general race to McDonnell by 360 votes, the closest statewide election in Virginia history.

On the same afternoon, Deeds picked up the endorsement of the association that represents Virginia’s firefighters.

The NRA endorsement is a setback for Deeds, an outdoorsman and lifelong resident of mountainous Bath County, in his battle against McDonnell in areas outside Virginia’s cities and suburbs where hunting and gun ownership enjoy strong support.

Chris Cox, chairman of the NRA’s political action arm, said it would contact its more than 120,000 dues-paying Virginia members as well as holders of hunting licenses and permits to carry concealed firearms to urge their vote and campaign support.

Deeds press secretary Jared Leopold, in a written statement, noted consistent grades of A from the NRA for Deeds.

Both candidates’ legislative records are mainly favorable to gun rights. In 1993, Deeds voted against legislation sought by then-Gov. L. Douglas Wilder, a Democrat, to limit handgun purchases in Virginia to one per person per month. McDonnell supported Wilder’s measure. Both now say they would repeal it.

The NRA turned its back on Deeds largely over his legislative efforts to require private gun sellers and traders at weapons bazaars to conduct background checks on purchasers, just as licensed firearms dealers must, Cox said.

“Gun owners were shocked and disappointed when Creigh flip-flopped and voted for arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions on Virginia gun shows,” Cox said in a conference call with reporters announcing the endorsement.

For years, Deeds had opposed gun show restrictions. His perspective changed after the April 16, 2007, Virginia Tech massacre when a student with two handguns shot 32 people dead on campus then killed himself as police closed in.

Although neither of the guns Seung-Hui Cho used to carry out the worst mass killing on a college campus in U.S. history was purchased at a gun show, Deeds said he was moved by the appeals of parents, relatives and friends of the slain.

“While it appears that his work on closing the gun show loophole following the Virginia Tech tragedy may have lost him this endorsement, Creigh looks forward to working with the NRA as governor to continue to protect our Second Amendment rights,” Leopold said.

McDonnell, the state attorney general from January 2006 until February, when he resigned to campaign for governor full time, opposed efforts to close the gun show loophole.

The NRA endorsement was also influenced by McDonnell’s intervention as attorney general in a gun rights lawsuit that led to a 2008 U.S. Supreme Court ruling upholding private gun ownership by Washington, D.C., residents, said Chris Cox, chairman of the NRA’s political action arm.

Cox praised McDonnell’s decision to join 30 other state attorneys general in support of gun ownership advocates before the Supreme Court. In a 5-4 decision, the court struck down handgun bans in the District of Columbia, Chicago, San Francisco and other cities, ruling that the Constitution’s right to keep and bear arms is a guarantee to individuals.

Cox also said the NRA was grateful to McDonnell for opposing a series of out-of-state sting operations orchestrated by New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg that targeted Virginia gun stores suspected of allowing buyers to illegally purchase firearms for other people.

“Mayor Bloomberg needed to be reminded that New York mayors have zero jurisdiction in … Virginia,” Cox said.

In Virginia Beach, Virginia Professional Fire Fighters president Mike Mohler put the backing of his group’s 6,500 fire and paramedic first-responders behind Deeds. Many of the organization’s members had already been conspicuous in their yellow-and-black T-shirts at Deeds events for weeks.

“He’s supported bills to protect the safety of first responders working at emergency sites, improve Virginia’s emergency medical response plan, enforce the Commonwealth’s fire prevention codes, and support the families of fire fighters who are injured or killed in the line of duty,” Mohler said.

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