Virginia Democrats are fighting over their gun-control records in the lead up to next month's gubernatorial primary election.
During a recent meet-and-greet with candidate Tom Perriello at Roanoke College, one gun-control activist browbeat the former congressman over his mixed record on the issue. Catherine Koebel, founder of the Blue Ridge Coalition Against Gun Violence and a supporter of Perriello opponent Lt. Governor Ralph Northam, told him she does not trust him.
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"I personally came here today because I'm worried," she said according to the Roanoke Times. "I'm worried that I'm going to have a hard time trusting you during this primary."
She points to Perriello's previous A rating from the National Rifle Association (NRA) and the thousands in campaign donations he accepted from the gun-rights group in the early days of his congressional career. Between 2008 and 2013, Perriello supported legislation that would have expanded concealed-carry reciprocity and opposed a renewed assault-weapons ban while accepting nearly $6,000 from the NRA. In a reversal, however, he has since campaigned for universal background checks and labeled the NRA a "nut-job extremist organization."
"I appreciate where you're coming from, but if you think we haven't pissed off the NRA, you haven’t been listening," Perriello told Koebel at the campaign event.
Still, the about-face has not won gun-control activists to his side. While Moms Demand Action has not officially endorsed any candidate in the Democratic primary, the Roanoke Times reports that thousands of their volunteers are canvassing for Northam over Perriello.
"We have two candidates that are speaking out in favor of common sense gun laws, only one of them has a record of standing up against the NRA and that’s really important to us that we support that candidate right now," Moms Demand Action volunteer Jennifer Herrera told the paper. "We're thrilled that Tom Perriello's stance on gun violence has come around to match Ralph Northam's record, so we applaud him for that."
"My issue is gun violence prevention and that’s where Ralph [Northam] has been solid all along," Andy Parker, a leading gun-control activist in Virginia, told the Times.
Though Perriello and Northam have outlined similar stances on gun control in the current race and received matching F ratings from the NRA, with support for universal background checks and bans on certain kinds of semi-automatic rifles, many activists view Northam as more consistently in favor of strict gun laws. His record shows votes for universal background checks, one-gun-a-month requirements, and against concealed-carry deregulation.
"I've got a D- grade with the NRA," Northam told the paper. "That should tell people where I stand on responsible gun ownership and what I’ve advocated for since I've been in public service for the past 10 years."
On the Republican side, candidates Ed Gillespie, Corey Stewart, and Frank Wagner have all received A ratings from the NRA. The primary election will take place on June 13.