- The Washington Times - Tuesday, September 15, 2009

The National Rifle Association announced Monday that it was endorsing Republican candidate Robert F. McDonnell for governor of Virginia because he has been “steadfast and forthright in his support of gun rights.”

Chris W. Cox, the NRA’s chief lobbyist, said the organization would bring its resources to bear in favor of the candidate, including calling upon its more than 120,000 Virginia members and holders of the state’s concealed-carry permits, hunters and gun collectors to support the Republican.

“We are proud to stand with Bob McDonnell and endorse his candidacy,” Mr. Cox said during a conference call with reporters. “He believes that any serious discussion on crime policy should focus on criminals and not law abiding gun owners.”

The endorsement would hardly be noteworthy if it weren’t for the fact that the NRA endorsed Mr. McDonnell’s Democratic opponent R. Creigh Deeds four years ago when the two ran for attorney general.

Mr. Deeds received the NRA backing in 2005 in part for being one of just 36 delegates in the Virginia General Assembly opposing a 1993 measure limiting handgun purchases to one per month. Mr. McDonnell voted for the measure; however, he said Monday that if presented with the opportunity, he would repeal it.

The issue was so vexing to then-Richmond Mayor L. Douglas Wilder, who as governor crafted the one-gun rule, that he withheld an endorsement in the Deeds-McDonnell 2005 race.

Mr. McDonnell won that contest by a little more than 300 votes and without the support of the NRA; however, in the ensuing years, the NRA said, he has gone above and beyond what was required to protect gun owners’ rights.

In response to questions about why the organization has withdrawn its support for Mr. Deeds in favor of Mr. McDonnell, Mr. Cox said that “a lot has changed in the last four years since the 2005 attorney general race. Two things that haven’t changed are the National Rifle Association and Bob McDonnell. The one thing that did change was Creigh Deeds. I have to be honest with you, gun owners were shocked and disappointed when Creigh flip-flopped and voted for arbitrary and unnecessary restrictions on Virginia gun shows.”

After the 2007 shootings at Virginia Tech, Mr. Deeds has said he changed his thinking about closing the state’s gun-show loophole, which allows people to purchase guns at shows without a background check.

Mr. Cox pointed to Mr. McDonnell’s record as attorney general, including his support of overturning the District’s gun law and his efforts to pass legislation making “straw purchases” by out-of-state agents illegal. The NRA has awarded Mr. McDonnell an “A” rating.

“It’s really been issue after issue that Bob has stood against criminals while respecting the rights of law-abiding gun owners,” Mr. Cox said.

When a security guard sued the District over being denied the right to register his pistol, Mr. McDonnell joined 30 other state attorneys general in sending a brief to the Supreme Court recommending that the court strike down the city’s law banning guns.

Mr. Cox also pointed to Mr. McDonnell’s role in thwarting New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who had been sending non-law enforcement agents to make “straw purchases” in Virginia and other states. Mr. Bloomberg had argued that criminals could easily purchase guns in Virginia, with its less restrictive laws, and take them to New York.

“Bob McDonnell stood up against Bloomberg’s underhanded attacks on the constitutional rights of Virginia’s law-abiding gun dealers and owners,” Mr. Cox said.

Mr. McDonnell, who participated in the conference call, said he was pleased with the endorsement.

“Our state has long been a leader in respecting the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners. Those efforts will continue if I’m elected governor,” Mr. McDonnell said.

In a statement released by the Deeds campaign, spokesman Jared Leopold said, “As a lifelong gun owner and hunter, Creigh Deeds is a committed supporter of the Second Amendment. He’s proud of his lifetime ‘A’ rating from the NRA and his record of support for sportsmen and gun owners.”

“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,” Mr. Leopold said.

Earlier this year, Mr. Deeds gained the endorsement of a prominent anti-gun group, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence because of his vote to close the gun-show loophole.

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