Why a Virginia Democrat says he launched a political fundraiser off of a mass shooting that was still unfolding

Potential buyers try out guns which are displayed on an exhibitor's table during the Nation's Gun Show on November 18, 2016 at Dulles Expo Center in Chantilly, Virginia. The show is one of the largest in the area. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Six police officers were shot in Philadelphia on Wednesday. During the hours-long standoff, Virginia Del. Mark Levine, D-Alexandria, took to Facebook to launch a fundraiser.

“If you agree with me that the vastly increasing rate of gun violence should never be normalized, will you contribute to help Democrats flip the Virginia Legislature? For every dollar donated today up to $10,000, I will give $2 from my campaign to a Democratic candidate who supports universal background checks and an assault weapons ban,” he wrote, updating the tally of injured officers as reports rolled in.

Republicans professed disbelief at the strategy. Some of his fellow Democrats questioned the wisdom of the approach in both public and private comments.

It would not be the first time Levine’s response to a mass shooting has drawn ire from Republicans, who voted down his legislation last year and lectured him on civility after he sent out an email headlined “How the GOP Makes it Easy to Commit Mass Murder.”

In an interview Thursday afternoon, Levine said he stands by his fundraiser. The following Q&A has been edited for clarity and length.

Virginia Mercury: I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a politician do this before, at least in Virginia. What led you to do this?

Del. Mark Levine

Levine: I was really inspired by the people of Dayton, Ohio. They had just suffered this horrible massacre, and the governor of Ohio comes out and he says, I want to let you know that I care, I want to let you know that we love you. … And, people said, ‘Do something.’ Don’t tell us you care. Don’t tell us you love us. Do something. Stop the violence.

So the question is, how do people do something? Well, in Virginia, there’s no way to do something legislatively because Republicans in Virginia have said we will not do anything about gun violence until there’s another election. We had a specific session devoted to gun violence. Republicans said, ‘Nope. … We want to have an election. We want to see what Virginians think.’ That’s their right as a majority party.

So this was also a response to Republicans’ action during special session on guns — to push back any votes until after the election?

Sure. Because the Republicans have said … ‘We’re not going to do anything legislatively. We won’t have any hearings. No discussion allowed — we think the people of Virginia don’t want to do anything.’

I don’t think they’re right. I think the people of Virginia do want to do something, and we understand, as Governor Northam often said, if you can’t change people’s minds, you need to change their seats.

The only way to change the seats is to win elections. The only way to win elections is to fund campaigns. So, I felt, yeah… this gives people a chance to do something.

But launching the fundraiser while the situation is still active, you caught a lot of flak. One of the more polite responses on your page called you “human garbage” for “using this for a political stance.” What were you hearing from your constituents?

Actually, I got very little flak from constituents. … It’s a crass strategy of saying, don’t talk about gun violence while gun violence is happening. Well, an American is killed every 15 minutes by gun violence. Injured every six minutes. We have 40,000 Americans dead every year and the body count is increasing. If I have to wait until there’s no one dying from gun violence, then I’m going to have to be very quick … because 15 minutes is coming around again.

This isn’t a one-off thing. This is an epidemic. You don’t have doctors who are running around when you have Ebola coming and they say, ‘No we’re still mourning over the Ebola victim. We’re not going to do a quarantine. … We’re still crying about these lives lost.’

How much money did you raise?

Between $200 and $300. And I will donate every penny to a candidate who supports universal background checks and I will match it from my own campaign.