The relationship between Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and gun control groups is quickly souring after critics say he caved to pressure form the National Rifle Association.
Virginia will now recognize concealed carry permits from dozens of other states with what critics say are weaker gun laws than the commonwealth.
The move, announced by McAuliffe on Friday, represents a sharp departure from the state’s decision shortly before Christmas to block many out-of-state gun owners from carrying in Virginia.
McAuliffe hailed the deal as a bipartisan compromise.
“This bipartisan deal to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers and people who cannot pass background checks will save lives,” McAuliffe said Friday in a statement. “Give and take is essential to every negotiation, but the balance of this deal changes Virginia law permanently in ways that will keep guns away from people who would use them for harm.”
The National Rifle Association (NRA) was able to beat down the Virginia measure that would’ve restricted what it sees as law-abiding gun owners from carrying in its own backyard. The group's headquarters are in Fairfax, Va.
The NRA did not immediately respond to requests for comment, but the group’s top lobbyist, Chris Cox, told The Washington Post it "commends leaders in the commonwealth for moving forward on a bipartisan package that will benefit Virginia citizens.”
The move comes as a shocking betrayal for gun control advocates.
McAuliffe has touted his “F-rating” from the NRA, but Everytown for Gun Safety accused the governor of “caving to the gun lobby’s demands.”
“Terry McAuliffe has been a good friend and strong ally to those of us in the gun violence prevention movement in Virginia,” said Lori Haas, director of the Virginia chapter of the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.
“Unfortunately, this deal with the NRA and pro-gun politicians is a mistake that, on the whole, would do far more harm than good,” she added.
Last year, McAuliffe campaigned for stronger gun laws alongside Andy Parker, a Virginia resident whose daughter, Alison, was shot and killed on live television while broadcasting the news.
"Many of us have spoken with you at rallies,” Andy Parker and other gun violence victims wrote Friday in a letter to McAuliffe. "We’ve backed you in your election for governor. You’ve comforted us and our families in some of our darkest moments. You have been a true friend to each of us and your support has meant so much to us. Over time, we've come to see you as a true champion of our ideals. A courageous fighter who stood up to the callousness of a gun lobby that for too long exerted undue influence over our political process here in Virginia.
"This isn't the first time that we've been disappointed in a Virginia politician, but when you campaigned on this issue, [we thought] you were different,” the letter continued.
In December, Virginia Attorney General Mark Herring (D) announced the commonwealth was severing ties with 25 states that had weaker gun laws. The concealed carry permits they issued would no longer be recognized in Virginia.
Herring feared that dangerous people who would not pass a background check in Virginia could obtain firearms in states with weaker gun laws and bring them into the commonwealth.
Those states included Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Florida, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Louisiana, Minnesota, Mississippi, Montana, Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota, North Carolina, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.
The ban was scheduled to take effect Feb. 1.
"I have recommended the state police terminate the reciprocity agreements with 25 states whose laws are not adequate to prevent issuance of a concealed handgun permit to individuals that Virginia would disqualify,” Herring said in a statement.
At the time, McAuliffe threw his support behind the decision. But a pressure campaign from Republicans in the state assembly and the gun lobby ensued.
McAuliffe agreed Friday to reverse the concealed carry decision in exchange for concessions from Republicans.
While Virginia must now allow gun owners from other states to carry in the commonwealth, state police will be instructed to confiscate firearms from people convicted of domestic abuse and will expand voluntary background checks.
Despite these concessions, gun control advocates say it is a bad deal that will endanger the public.
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence called it a “mistake” that would allow people from other states who have been convicted of stalking, assault, sexual offenses, drunkenness, and people who are dangerously mentally ill to bring carry guns in Virginia.
The group scoffed at the “optional" background check provision McAuliffe negotiated in the deal that "would not require a single private seller in the commonwealth” to comply.