Virginia LG scheduled to speak at NRA fundraising event in Texas this week

‘Virginians should be in disbelief,’ DPVA says in call for Earle-Sears to cancel

By: - May 25, 2022 12:29 pm

Republican lieutenant governor candidate Winsome Sears posed with a rifle in ads during the GOP nominating contest. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears is scheduled to be the keynote speaker on Friday for a women’s luncheon at the National Rifle Association’s annual conference in Houston, just days after a deadly mass shooting at a Texas elementary school and another at a Buffalo grocery store pushed guns to the forefront of American politics.

Tickets to the event with Earle-Sears, who famously posed with a military-style rifle during her 2021 campaign, range from $250 to $2,500, according to the NRA’s website.

“Be part of this unforgettable gathering of like-minded women as we celebrate the sisterhood we share, hear from impactful speakers, participate in live and silent auctions, and raise funds essential to strengthening the NRA’s fight to protect our freedom,” the NRA’s Women’s Leadership Forum says on a website promoting the event.

On Wednesday, the Democratic Party of Virginia called on Earle-Sears to withdraw from the event in light of the shooting at Uvalde’s Robb Elementary School that left at least 19 children and two adults dead.

Virginians should be in disbelief that our lt. governor would speak at an NRA event after an unconscionable elementary school shooting that left 19 children dead,” DPVA spokesman Gianni Snidle said in a news release that also called on Earle-Sears to denounce the NRA.

The lieutenant governor’s office didn’t immediately respond to an emailed request for comment, but Earle-Sears weighed in on the shooting via Twitter Tuesday night.

An ill-wind is blowing through our land; a wretched evil that destroys,” she said. “Terry and I are praying for the parents, siblings, family members, and friends of Robb Elementary School who are now experiencing the deepest of pains. It is a season we wish on no one.”

Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears presides over the Senate. (Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

The NRA also did not immediately respond to questions about whether Friday’s event would still move forward.

Gun-control is at something of a stalemate in Virginia, with Republicans in control of the Executive Branch and House of Delegates but Democrats in control of the state Senate.

When Democrats had full control of the state, they enacted many of the big-ticket items gun-control advocates call for, including universal background checks, a red flag law allowing authorities to temporarily seize guns from troubled people, a law limiting handgun purchases to one per month and tougher laws requiring gun owners to report lost or stolen firearms and keep weapons away from children. Those proposals prompted a massive gun-rights rally in 2020 that drew more than 20,000 people to the streets of Downtown Richmond surrounding the state Capitol.

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The successful Democratic package of gun bills didn’t include a proposed ban on assault-style weapons, a proposal some Senate Democrats balked at after running into difficulty over defining what an assault rifle is and the question of what to do about legally purchased assault weapons already in circulation in what has been a traditionally pro-gun state.

Gun issues weren’t a major focus for Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s winning campaign last year, though Youngkin has said he supports gun rights. Former Gov. Terry McAuilffe, who ran against Youngkin, campaigned on renewing a push for an assault weapon ban in Virginia, but the Republican wins last year made the proposal even more of a longshot than it already was.

Youngkin, who sidestepped an endorsement from the NRA last year even as the organization endorsed Earle-Sears and Attorney General Jason Miyares, ordered flags to be flown at half-staff in Virginia in response to the Texas shooting.

Suzanne and I are devastated at the incomprehensible and tragic news out of Texas,” Youngkin said on Twitter Tuesday night. “We are praying for the community of Uvalde and the families who lost their children and loved ones to this senseless attack.”

Amid a broad increase in shootings playing out in numerous Virginia cities, both Republicans and Democrats have proposed millions in new funding to reduce the type of everyday gun violence that helped push Virginia’s 2020 homicide rate to a 20-year high. The exact scope of that proposal is still being worked as part of the budget deal that will be unveiled soon ahead of a scheduled vote next week.

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Graham Moomaw
Graham Moomaw

A veteran Virginia politics reporter, Graham grew up in Hillsville and Lynchburg, graduating from James Madison University and earning a master's degree in journalism from the University of Maryland. Before joining the Mercury in 2019, he spent six years at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, most of that time covering the governor's office, the General Assembly and state politics. He also covered city hall and politics at The Daily Progress in Charlottesville. Contact him at [email protected]

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