Cam Edwards joins the podcast to discuss the gun issue, specifically in the state of Virginia where an assault weapons ban was just defeated amid aggressive gun control efforts. We’ll discuss the legislative pieces still in play, what these efforts mean for gun owners in the state, and whether there’s a larger national trend towards instituting stricter gun laws.
Cam Edwards has covered the 2nd Amendment for more than 15 years as a broadcast and online journalist, as well as the co-author of “Heavy Lifting: Grow Up, Get a Job, Start a Family, and Other Manly Advice” with Jim Geraghty. He lives outside of Farmville, Virginia with his family.
Beverly: And welcome to She Thinks, a podcast where you’re allowed to think for yourself. I’m your host, Beverly Hallberg and on today’s episode Cam Edwards joins us to discuss the issue of guns, most specifically in the state of Virginia, where gun control efforts are in full force. But where an assault weapons ban bill was just defeated. We’ll discuss the various legislative pieces still being discussed, what it all means for gun owners in the state and if there is a larger trend across the country to institute stricter state gun laws. Before we bring Cam on, a little bit about him, he has covered the second amendment for more than 15 years as a broadcast and online journalist and he is the co-author of Heavy Lifting: Grow Up, Get A Job, Start A Family And Other Manly Advice which he co-authored with Jim Geraghty. He lives outside of Farmville, Virginia with his family. A pleasure to have you on Cam.
Cam: Oh, thank you so much for the invite. It’s a pleasure to be here.
Beverly: Well Cam, I think it’s a very interesting time to have you on because you are living in the state that is going through the most changes on an issue that you’re an advocate for, and that is the second amendment. What is it like to be a Virginian right now?
Cam: It’s kind of scary honestly. As you say, this is not what we’ve seen from Democrats in years past when they’ve taken control of the state legislature. And they may be kind of try to nibble around the edges. I mean they are going for as big a chunk out of the right to keep and bear arms as they possibly believe that they can get. And so we’re seeing dozens of gun bills that were introduced and there are about eight major proposals from Governor Ralph Northam that he’s really pushing and that House Democrats, and to a slightly lesser extent, Senate Democrats are pushing as well. Everything from bans on the most commonly produced rifles today, commonly owned magazines, an end to statewide firearms preemption laws and the ability for anti-gun cities to put in place gun control laws that could curtail the possession or the transportation of firearms. They’re trying to go from a state that was I think very friendly towards the right to keep and bear arms and to try to turn it in a matter of weeks into a state like California or New York or New Jersey.
Beverly: And California is the state that I grew up in. So I am familiar with a lot of their gun laws there. I’m curious from you as we see this main change that has taken place in the state legislature, which of course took place in November when Democrats took control and now are acting in full force beginning in January. Did you expect them to go this strong against guns considering Virginians are pretty gun friendly?
Cam: I did expect them to do this in part because of the support that they received from Michael Bloomberg during the campaign in 2019. Bloomberg targeted about a dozen or so suburban swing districts and spent millions of dollars to try to flip the legislature, and he was successful in doing so. I think there was a gain of about eight seats in the state house, two in the state Senate, and that was enough for Democrats to take control of the state government for the first time in 26 years. And so there’s, I think a sense within the legislature that they have to repay Bloomberg for the help that he gave them. But I also do believe that there is a mentality among the Democrat party at large right now that gun control is a winning message. I believe that if that is the case, it’s because they’re lying to voters. They’re claiming that these things are common sense gun safety measures when in fact the bills that we’ve seen introduced in Virginia would turn the vast majority of the state’s legal gun owners into criminals simply for keeping the things that they currently own.
Beverly: So let’s break that down a little bit more. Like you said, they’re using this messaging of this is common sense and I think a lot of people have been scared by what we have seen based on the reporting when it comes to shootings that take place. I mean there’s a lot of stats that show it’s actually not increased how many shootings take place, but people are scared. There is fear. When you look at what they’re proposing and legislation, why do you say it turns gun owners into criminals? What are some of those specifics that you’re seeing that really is an extreme measure?
Cam: Well, house bill 961 is the governor’s gun ban bill, and this was introduced, actually it started out as a senate bill, senate bill 16 and it made it a felony to continue to possess so-called assault weapons, magazines that can hold more than 10 rounds of ammunition, legally owned suppressors and what they define as a trigger activators. Things like bump stocks, binary triggers and the like. So you could have owned these items for years, but if that bill had become law and it was backed by Governor Northam on January 1, 2021 you would be a felon if you still had any of those items in your possession. That bill actually kind of sparked the second amendment sanctuary movement and there was this huge outcry. So Governor Northam backed away from that.
And then just before the session started, he backs house bill 961 and the only change is at the time anyway, it allowed for people to maintain possession of their so-called assault weapons as long as they got permission to do so from the state police and they registered themselves and their guns with the state police. And the rest of the bill was virtually identical. The bill’s been watered down as it’s made its way through the legislative process. Suppressors got grandfathered in, the penalty for possessing a magazine dropped from a felony to a misdemeanor, although they kept it as a felony to transport one of these “large capacity magazines.” So they’re playing games with the specific language because really at the end of the day, what’s most important to Governor Northam and to these Democrats is to get something that they can call a gun ban on the books. And if they don’t like all of the details, if it’s not strong enough for them, they’ll come back next year and they’ll simply put more restrictions in place.
Beverly: Yeah. It sounds like this is just the first step of an effort that they want to continue. I want to focus on one of the things you just said there, and that was assault weapons. So this has been something, of course on the national scene that has been talked about a lot. The fear of an assault weapon and people saying, well, why does anybody who’s not in the military need this type of gun? What can you tell us about these types of guns and why it’s something that would be reasonable for somebody who’s not in the military to possess?
Cam: Sure. I mean, well like I mentioned before, I mean these are the most commonly produced rifles in the country today. They are the standard rifle in 2020. Are they a functionally similar to your grandfather’s Woodstock hunting rival? Yep. They are. It’s just that now with advances in technology they’re lighter. There are typically not made of wood but made of a polymer or some sort of composite material. They’re actually safer and they are more modular so individuals can swap out a new barrel or a lower receiver. They can build their own quite functionally and fairly easily and it’s become the standard firearm. It’s become the standard long gun anyway in the United States. The Supreme Court has already declared that arms that are in common use for lawful purposes are protected under the second amendment. I think that would certainly apply to semiautomatic long guns.
Unfortunately it is true that they are used in a very small number of high profile crimes. And I think that that is what has driven the fear among a lot of non gun owners that, well if we just ban these guns then those types of acts will stop. We know that that’s not the case. We’ve seen incidents like these happen in states like California that have banned so-called assault weapons. We also know we can’t really ban our way to safety. I mean you look at the crime rates in Washington DC and in Chicago when they actually had a ban on handguns in place and they were higher than they are now, a decade after the ban has been struck down.
So I think as gun owners, we have a fairly difficult job to do in terms of educating and communicating these things with non gun owners. But ultimately we are all concerned about the same thing. We all do want a safer society. We want our kids to be able to play on the streets in a safe neighborhood. It’s just I as a gun owner and a second amendment supporter and somebody who studied this issue, I have very different ideas about how we get to that safer society than Michael Bloomberg or Shannon Watts or the typical volunteer from Moms Demand Action.
Beverly: And I know on January 20th there was a large rally in Richmond, Virginia, where second amendment advocates showed up to voice their displeasure. There is a lot of chaos as far as the news coverage leading up to saying there was going to be some white supremacist rally. One of my favorite facts about that is the local officials saying how clean the city was left when people who attended the rally left. When you see that many people show up, when this is an issue that makes national news, when we’re talking about something that’s changing on the state level, what has the response, the outcry, been from those who support the second amendment in response to these legislative pieces?
Cam: I mean in all honesty, it’s been like nothing I’ve ever seen before and I’ve been covering the second amendment issues for over 15 years now. The reaction was almost immediate. In the days after the November elections, you saw folks that are starting to show up at their county supervisors meetings and they were asking for these second amendment sanctuary resolutions. And at first it was one or two and a few days would go by and all of a sudden you’d hear reports about several dozen people showing up at a county supervisor’s meeting. And then a few days later, it was hundreds and ultimately became thousands of people who were showing up a lot of times in very rural counties. But also a lot of suburban places and even some of Virginia’s largest cities. And this movement really just swept across the state.
It has engaged gun owners politically and many of them for the very first time. These are men or women who aren’t really innately political. They don’t really like politics, but they now are aware that politicians are interested in them and said they better be interested in what politicians are doing. And I think it’s going to resonate far beyond this legislative session. I think that this is going to have an impact on the 2020 election in Virginia and I hope that we’re going to be able to keep this energy and this engagement up and this momentum going so that these gun owners can play a decisive role in taking back the state of Virginia in 2021, which is the next time we have the opportunity to vote on our state delegates.
Beverly: And something you mentioned earlier was the money that Mike Bloomberg put into the state. There does seem to be almost these outside forces, people who aren’t even Virginians who want to use Virginians almost as case study of what could take place. And I’ve wondered if one of the reasons why Virginia was chosen as far as a state to put this money into is because it’s where the NRA has been headquartered. One of the interesting pieces of legislation I thought was it seems to limit the ability for people to train in certain ranges. There’d be some restrictions and my thought was isn’t the whole point of people being able to be trained so that they can be prepared should a situation happen? Do you think that there has been just because the NRA is part or is based in Virginia, that there has been a target against the organization and therefore Virginia was called out because of it?
Cam: Absolutely. That has happened and we’ve seen it with that bill that you talked about that would have closed down the NRA range and it would’ve closed down some other ranges too. But I truly believe that the intent was to specifically target the NRA range. We’ve got another bill that would make it much more difficult for people to obtain a concealed carry license because it would remove the NRA certified firearms instructors’ ability to actually teach these courses. And instead you’d have to be certified by the state under the process through which law enforcement and private security guards are trained. So there aren’t as many of those firearms instructors, particularly in rural areas, and it would be a real nightmare. And it’s all because the of the words, NRA certified firearms instructor and NRA safety training, appear in the state statute. And you’ve got these lawmakers who are so anti-NRA that they would throw the entire system of concealed carry into disarray because they don’t like the fact that the NRA is the gold standard when it comes to firearms training.
I mean like it or not, that’s the reality. And if these lawmakers have a problem with that, well they should probably bug Michael Bloomberg, he’s a billionaire. He spent hundreds of millions of dollars going after the rights of gun owners. Maybe he can actually spend a few million to come up with some actual firearms training curriculum to compete with the NRA. But they’re not interested in that. I think ultimately at the end of the day they’re interested in turning this right into a privilege. And in order to do that, yeah, I think that they have to try to defeat the NRA and they have to splinter gun owners and make our advocacy as ineffective as possible.
Beverly: I’m glad you mentioned the training aspect of it. So I currently reside in DC. Now DC has its own gun issues altogether. But I, even as a female, considered taking one of the training courses that’s offered at the NRA that’s specifically for women. I was like, well that’d be great if I get a gun, I actually want to learn how to use it. And these are things that are being threatened by this type of legislation. And it seems to me there’s not a lot of thought behind a lot of the legislation other than to just prove a point that they think guns are bad. I mean, is this a real goal to just try to get rid of guns all together?
Cam: I believe so. I mean, I really do believe that the definition of gun safety according to, every [inaudible 00:14:43] for gun safety is don’t own a gun. It’s not about education, it’s not about training. It is about otherizing and denormalizing the exercise of a constitutional right. And one of the things that I’ve been very encouraged by in Virginia in the wake of the elections is you’ve seen this incredible cross section of people who are showing their support for the second amendment. You mentioned the rally and you saw Virginians of every shade of skin color, every ethnicity across the political spectrum, left, right. Somebody was walking around with a rainbow Gadsden flag, which I thought was pretty cool. Ultimately the second amendment, the majority of people who own guns may be conservative, but the second amendment is an American right. It’s a right of all of us, not just of the right.
And I believe it’s really the last big tent movement that we have in this country. And the bigger the tent, the better I believe as far as protecting our rights. So I think that, again, I’m encouraged, we’re in a pretty dark spot right now in Virginia. But I am encouraged by what I’m seeing among gun owners and this new community and this new network that’s being built to not just push back politically, but also to get our message out culturally about the second amendment, about the right to keep and bear arms.
Beverly: I’ve even wondered from a strategy perspective if this has been a poor move by Democrats, that they’ve overplayed their hand too much. I mean, there’s a reason why rallies are forming, why people are showing up, and that they’ve taken such extreme measures so quickly that I think that this outcry has been the result of it. And so for some of our listeners who are listening to this podcast who say, I don’t live in Virginia, it doesn’t really matter. What could this mean for other states? I’m assuming that seeing what happens, Virginia could at least set a precedent or a roadmap for other states to follow suit, correct?
Cam: Yep. Oh yes. You’re absolutely correct about that. I mean, this is the thing. They view Virginia as not just a huge victory, but as a playbook that they can now take to other states. So they’re targeting the state of Texas, for example, and they don’t need to flip 40 seats. Right, if they flip 18 seats in the state house, then all of a sudden the state house is blue. It’s run by anti-gun Democrats. They’re looking at Tennessee. They’re looking at places where they believe that they can play in the margins. And all they need, again, is a one or two vote majority. That’s enough for them to get their agenda through. So the map is not as secure as we might like to think that it is across much of the country.
One of the other things that I would say too is that it’s not even just at the state level. They’re showing up at local school board meetings. They’re showing up at city council meetings. Gun control advocates, particularly the groups that are being directed and funded by Michael Bloomberg are being very, very effective in how they’re utilizing their resources and gun owners, again, no matter where you live, no matter how safe a state you might be in, I guarantee you there is something somewhere where you can make a difference by being involved and where your rights are under attack.
Beverly: Final question for you, and this is an issue you talk about, issue you’ve dedicated your life to you. What have you found to be an effective way to talk about this issue, especially to young people? When you talk about people who currently own guns, obviously they’re already sold on why they think that’s important. Do you find with young people there is a message you try to get out to them as far as the safety implications? Do you think we have the potential of losing future generations if we don’t talk about this well?
Cam: Yeah I do. And I think that there are a number of approaches to take, right? I typically, I don’t start with the safety conversation. I typically come at it from a pro rights perspective and a lot of times I’ll talk about just the practical implications of putting in place these gun control policies. We’ve seen Michael Bloomberg is going to get raked over the coals for his support for stop and frisk but that’s enforcement of gun control and action. And so a lot of individuals who may support, in theory the idea of gun control laws also have a real problem with how these laws are being enforced in high crime neighborhoods. And I want them to understand that these things are connected. And I think right now there is this disconnect in examining some of the laws on the books and how those laws get enforced.
But then when you do talk about the safety issue, I think it is important to understand and to bring forth that argument that the best way to ensure gun safety is to ensure that people have the opportunity for education and training. I’m not a huge fan of training mandates to, certainly not to own a firearm, but I am a huge proponent of training opportunities. And unfortunately right now, again with the idea of gun safety, meaning don’t own a gun, we see all of these attempts to make it as difficult as possible for people to get that training.
You said you live in Washington, DC. Well there are no public ranges in Washington, DC. There’s no place where you can go to get the training that’s required for you to have before you can own a gun in Washington. You have to go to Virginia, you have to go to Maryland. Those are the types of barriers that are put in place that do absolutely nothing to make us safer or to protect anybody. All it does is frankly encourage your responsible gun ownership and unless you’re going to make the case that really you want to repeal the second amendment, you don’t think anybody should own a gun. Then we have to talk about what’s constitutional, what’s effective and what’s enforceable.
Beverly: Well, you do talk about all those things on a regular basis. We so appreciate your work on this important issue and we thank you for joining She Thinks today.
Cam: Well, thank you so much. This was a great conversation. I really appreciate it.
Beverly: And thank you all for joining us today. Before you go, I did want to let you know of another great podcast you should subscribe to in addition to She Thinks. It’s called Problematic Women, and it’s hosted by Kelsey Bolar and Lauren Evans, where they both sort through the news to bring stories and interviews that are of particular interest to conservative leaning or problematic women. That is women who’s views and opinions are often excluded or mocked by those on the so called feminist left. Every Thursday, hear them talk about everything from pop culture to policy and politics by searching for problematic women wherever you get your podcasts. Last, if you enjoyed this episode of She Thinks, do leave us a rating or a review on iTunes, it does help and we’d love it if you shared this episode so your friends know where they can find more She Thinks episodes. From all of us here at Independent Women’s forum, thanks for listening.