Democratic lawmaker, with NRA in his backyard, talks tough on gun control

A Democratic congressman whose suburban district includes the headquarters of the National Rifle Association (NRA) has aggressively taken on the nation’s most powerful gun rights group.

Rep. Gerry Connolly’s (D-Va.) criticism of the NRA, which has previously attempted to defeat him, is politically risky.

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There’s little consensus on how Connolly’s support for gun control will affect the NRA’s willingness to campaign against him in the 2014 elections.

Toni-Michelle Travis, an associate professor of Government and Politics at George Mason University said “the fact that the NRA is headquartered in his district makes him extremely visible as someone who’s not supportive of the NRA’s policies.”

But John McGlennon, chair of the Government Department at the College of William and Mary, said that Connolly “represents a district that has strong support for the policies outlined in President Obama’s gun control proposal” and that “the NRA won’t focus most of its efforts on members of Congress with urban and densely populated districts, but rather on ones who represent large rural populations.”

“I don’t frame the issue as me versus the NRA,” said Connolly. “My community has been affected by mentally ill people who’ve gotten a hold of guns and I think my constituents expect that prudent measures be taken to prevent these tragedies in the future.”

One such instance occurred in 2006 when then 18-year-old Michael Kennedy fatally shot Detective Vicky Armel and Officer Michael Garbarino at the Sully Police Station in Fairfax. Armel and Garbarino were the department’s only personnel to have been killed in the line of duty.

“The NRA says that arming the good guys would prevent such atrocities, but the good guys at the Sully Police Station were armed and it didn’t prevent our tragedy,” Connolly said.

Despite his opposition to many of the NRA’s positions, Connolly has nevertheless been able to hold onto his Northern Virginia district. In both 2008 and 2010, Connolly ran against businessman Keith Fimian, who had the support of the NRA.

“I’m living proof that, especially in suburban swing districts, voters can and do reward politicians willing to put public safety above lock-step adherence to an extreme NRA agenda,” Connolly wrote in a December opinion piece for The New York Times a few days after the Sandy Hook school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

Connolly won his 2010 race against Fimian by fewer than 1,000 votes.

“I’ve won nine federal and local elections in a row with an "F" rating from the NRA and got 61 percent of the vote in 2012,” notes Connolly, whose 11th district voted in favor of President Obama by 62.3% to Mitt Romney’s 36.2%.

Connolly benefitted from redistricting, which transferred some of the more conservative parts of his district to Rep. Frank Wolf’s (R-Va.) 10th territory.

Asked about specific initiatives he’s in favor of to curb gun violence, Connolly responded by saying he supports “reasonable measures that still allow for the preservation of the Second Amendment” including closing the gun show loophole, reinstating the assault weapons ban, and banning guns in public facilities such as community centers and hospitals.

Andrew Arulanandam, NRA’s Director of Public Affairs, said of Connolly that “we monitor the voting records of every member of Congress, but don’t make extraordinary efforts on any one specific member.” In response to a question about whether the NRA would work to prevent Connolly from being reelected if he votes in favor of gun control, Arulanandam said that “we don’t respond to hypotheticals.”

“Part of the problem is debate has been stifled by the perception that folks on the other side control all the resources to seek vengeance at the ballot box…some space has been created since Newtown,” explained Connolly, who mentioned that a new gun control SuperPAC headed by New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg took the lead in helping to oust former Rep. Joe Baca (D-Calif.) in November.

This article was updated at 10:36 a.m.

Rep. Gloria Negrete McLeod (D-Calif.) defeated Baca, who attracted an “A” rating from the NRA.