Media Botching Second Biggest Political Story of 2020

Overflow attendance at Amelia County board of supervisors meeting.

by James A. Bacon

According to gun-rights groups, 87  Virginia counties, 10 cities, and 18 towns have adopted Second Amendment Sanctuary resolutions. The  magnitude of this grassroots movement is unprecedented in recent Virginia history. Nothing can compare, not even the Tea Party movement.

If you want to know what’s animating the gun-rights movement, though, you have to read conservative and right-wing websites and blogs. Virginia’s mainstream media is clueless. Virginia journalists working for the major media outlets, whose coverage reflects the preoccupations of urban liberals, didn’t see this coming. When the movement gained momentum, Virginia journalists were slow to catch on. And now that the movement has gained a full head of steam, Virginia journalists are getting scooped by out-of-state conservative publications.

Thus, we learn from the Washington Examiner — not the Washington Post, not the Richmond Times-Dispatch, not even the Roanoke Times — that Governor Ralph Northam has budgeted $4.8 million over two years to fund the creation of 18 positions to support proposed legislation “related to an assault weapons ban.” Gun rights advocates are interpreting this measure as hiring an 18-officer team to enforce an “assault weapons” ban, and they’re suggesting that Northam, despite promising to grandfather existing assault-weapons owners, may be planning to confiscate the weapons.

State law also requires any legislation that might increase the prison population over the succeeding six years to include a one-year General Fund appropriation to cover the estimated increase in prison operating costs. Another addition to the budget includes this text under the rubric of a projected increase “in the need for prison beds”:

There are five such bills proposed: allow the removal of firearms from persons who pose a substantial risk to themselves or others; prohibit the sale, possession, and transport of assault firearms, trigger activators, and silencers; increase the penalty for allowing a child to access unsecured firearms; prohibit possession of firearms for persons subject to final orders of protection; and require background checks for all firearms sales. The impact of these bills is estimated at $50,000 each.

(Give credit to mainstream media reporter Ben Paviour with Virginia Public Media for tweeting about this last item.)

I don’t know how much it costs to buy a prison bed — two thousand dollars? — but it’s not a stretch to conclude that the Northam administration is budgeting for more than a hundred extra prison beds for gun-related offenses — even as other bills propose to reduce Virginia’s prison population by decriminalizing marijuana, reducing youth incarceration, and reinstating parole.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League is portraying these budget items as signs of impending gun confiscations. “We need to get as many pro-gun Virginians as possible to attend these meetings and demand to know if the delegates and senators plan to allocate money — as delineated in budget — to confiscate common, household firearms from Virginia citizens,” VCDL wrote in an email alert.

It”s not clear how the VCDL extrapolates from the hiring of 18 officers “to support” gun legislation” to “gun confiscation.” Is there evidence to support such fears, or is this unsubstantiated alarmism? I don’t know. That’s why it is critical to have responsible reporting and fact checking by mainstream journalists on the Second Amendment Sanctuary issue. As I have blogged previously, the gun-rights movement is reliant upon social media for most of its information… and, as most of us can agree, social media is not the most dependable source of information, subject as it is to unfounded rumor and possibly even Russian trolling and web bots.

The dominant media can be counted on to report statements from Governor Northam, Attorney General Mark Herring, legislators and the anti-gun advocates, but reporters are way behind the curve on how the fast-moving Second Amendment Sanctuary movement is responding to gun-control initiatives. The Democratic Party takeover of the General Assembly is unquestionably the No. 1 political story of 2020. But the Second Amendment Sanctuary story is unquestionably the No. 2 political story, and the media coverage so far has been grossly inadequate.

Update: I have been reminded that The Virginia Mercury did outline the main contours of this story almost a month ago. You can read its coverage here.

And other media-related news… the Richmond Times-Dispatch has sold its four-story office building to Shamin Hotels, the region’s largest hotel operator, and will consolidate its advertising, news, and administrative offices on the fourth floor.

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27 responses to “Media Botching Second Biggest Political Story of 2020”

  1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    Why would anyone be surprised that the Post’s left-wing editorial policies affect its news coverage? As I’ve posted a number of times, about 10 years ago, a WaPo reporter confided in me that the editorial staff put pressure on reporters not to write anything negative about then-Governor Tim Kaine despite a long-standing written policy keeping the two groups separate. And the Post rarely allows detailed rebuttal op-eds.

    And any clear-thinking person knows that sanctuary is ok for illegal immigrants, including criminals, but not for gun possession.

  2. LarrytheG Avatar

    The biggest story of the decade is the fact that in the age of the internet – conspiracy theories have become the language of many of us.

    We did not land on the moon – it was staged
    so was 9-11
    JFK’s assassination was fake
    THe Holocaust never happened
    same with Sandy Hook
    Vince Foster was killed by the Clinton’s
    as was their role in a Pizza shop and child pornography
    most all climate scientists lie
    the media lies except the right wing media – tells the truth of course
    the deep state exists in government and is staging a “coup”.
    liberals are planning on taking your guns

    these are just a few – and now with the advent of the internet, phones and social media -it’s like a herd of animals spooked by some suspicious movement in their midst.

    It’s so bad that Fact Checkers, Snopes and Wikipedia are also considered part ot the conspiracies !!!

  3. “Is there evidence to support such fears, or is this unsubstantiated alarmism? I don’t know. That’s why it is critical to have responsible reporting and fact checking by mainstream journalists on the Second Amendment Sanctuary issue.” Or any issue, given the polarized portrayal of just about everything on social media these days.

    So, who determines what is “responsible reporting and fact checking”? What journalistic standards exist, and who enforces them? “Reality is ‘fake news’” they say: who’s version of reality can you believe?

    1. Nobody “determines” the standards. Any would-be arbiter of what constitutes legitimate news will have its own biases. The only solution is a free press in which different publications (and independent bloggers) fact-check one another.

  4. Re: fact checking: Here is the the pitch I received today from the Fairfax County Republican Committee:. “The Democrat-Controlled General Assembly Plans Radical Legislation! . . .
    Radical? Yes, radical! Proposed bills address: Severe restrictions on the ownership of guns, including funding of a special state law enforcement organization to ensure compliance with gun restrictions that are backed by felony-level penalties.” So with Virginia Republicans, apparently fact-checking takes a back seat to fundraising?

    1. I don’t know if the Republicans are stating the facts accurately or not. They may have better intelligence than me. I don’t know. It’s too bad the media isn’t following this closely.

      1. old redneck2725 Avatar
        old redneck2725

        Is there a single example on record of Republicans stating facts accurately?

  5. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    And there has been no similar rhetoric from the left on abortion? No election propaganda? (And I’m reasonably pro choice.) Give me a break.

    It’s OK to go over the top on something that’s protected by penumbra and emanations found for the first time in the Griswold case but not for something that’s been enshrined in Anglo-American jurisprudence since at least 1689 and arguably since the 13th Century.

    The new Democratic Commonwealth’s Attorney for Fairfax County flat out lied about crime statistics in the county. That got him media endorsement.

    Why is it OK for over-the-top rhetoric on abortion (and illegal immigration) but not on gun ownership?

    This country will continue to fissure until we try to apply one rule to everyone.

  6. Dick Hall-Sizemore Avatar
    Dick Hall-Sizemore

    I want to try to quiet some of the hysteria.

    The reported $4.8 million related to enforcing the assault weapons legislation is a little exaggerated. The budget document shows a first-year appropriation of $2.4 million and a second year appropriation of $1.6 million, a biennial total of $4.0 million, and 18 positions for the Department of State Police related to an assault weapons ban.

    I am fairly certain that these amounts are what the State Police said it would need to implement the proposed legislation. I know from past experience that the agency has a habit of significantly inflating its need for positions. As a former budget analyst, I cannot imagine why the State Police would need that many positions. I am assuming that the Department of Planning and Budget folks did not feel they could question the State Police regarding one of the Governor’s top priorities.

    The wording of the budget document “bullet” (no pun intended) is spare. DPB and the Governor’s office tend to keep these explanations as short as possible. In this case, they did the Governor a disservice by not anticipating what conspiracy theorists would read into such a short explanation.

    The $50,000 appropriation for each of the gun-related bills is a result of the established fiscal impact process. As Jim’s post notes, the law requires an appropriation for any legislation that is projected to result in the need for additional prison beds. Typically, for legislation creating a new criminal offense, it cannot be determined how many additional beds may be required because there is no past history to use as a basis for a projection. In such a case, a provision in the Appropriation Act requires that an impact of $50,000 be assigned to the bill. It is accepted that the Governor should include an appropriation for any bills he plans to introduce that would fit into this category. The appropriation for the gun bills this year is routine. In fact, in both 2018 and 2019, there were similar provisions in the introduced budget bills regarding appropriations for proposed gun legislation, including a ban on assault weapons. (I am planning soon to post longer discussions on the fiscal impact process.)

    1. Thanks, Dick, this is helpful. Your explanation strikes me as a highly plausible account of what’s going on with the budget numbers.

      1. Steve Haner Avatar
        Steve Haner

        It is a clear indication that people will go to jail. The amounts of the so-called Woodrum Amendment estimates are always fudged, but this means (no surprise) the plan is to actually enforce these. It’s fair to note this, along with the plan for a new State Police unit. These are not symbolic measures. They plan to arrest and maybe incarcerate somebody.

  7. LarrytheG Avatar

    ……… What Dick said – will not be what the 2nd amendment right folks say – right?

    What the gun rights people are doing is basically promoting lies and conspiracy theories… and they’re doing it because it’s become the standard these days over a lot of controversial issues AND people BELIEVE THEM.

    every day , social media delivers new conspiracy theories!

    and TMT – abortion – “baby killers” – have you read some of the stuff the anti-abortion folks and the GOP have put out on that issue?

    Jim laments … blames the “media” – but I continue to point out that there is already a LOT of “media” including all manner of far right sites which more often than not – promote viewpoints that lean towards “radical left” and conspiracy theories. We do it here – we talk about green energy and how the Dems will push a “radical” agenda that will make the grid unreliable, etc, etc…

    We talk about how the K-12 schools are implementing “social justice” rules..

    we call people “snowflakes” and social justice warriors…

    we refer to Charlottesville as “the People’s Republic”

    RGGI and the radical left will tax the bejesus out of us never mind that Dominion is doing even worse – with the blessings of the GA!

    What to do ?

    1. – recognize your own confirmation bias issues. yes.. we do…

    2. – do NOT believe what the folks you LIKE say – until you have actually confirmed it – at other sites and no not other sites that parrot the ones you like! 😉

    3. recognize when something is basically a conspiracy theory – like “they’re coming to get your guns”… when that’s simply garbage.

    3. – don’t spread misinformation , propaganda or conspiracy theories yourself.. and when you do – actually admit you did it.

  8. I predict that the RTD will not exist in ten years. They’re on their last legs whether they realize it or not. What assets do they have when the next recession strikes? Nothing.

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Three years, sadly.

      1. Could be. I honestly believe they’re done whenever the next recession hits. Whether it’s next year, three years from now, or ten years from now. Now that the building’s gone, what exactly is the value proposition they have to sell to their owners when the economy turns sour?

  9. johnrandolphofroanoke Avatar

    I did some exploring today of the Old Lockett Plantation in Halifax County. Ran into numerous hunters and we talked a while. I was impressed with how informed they were on SB 16 on the other gun bills. One comment from a hunter that struck me was securing gun rights “by any means necessary”. I believed him too. This business with the 2nd Amendment is going to go down in the history books. I got a strong whiff of the spirit of 1776 this morning.

    1. Reed Fawell 3rd Avatar
      Reed Fawell 3rd

      Those hunters are far wiser than most all UVA professors. Those hunters realize like the Founders that guns are the deepest taproot of each American’s liberty. When the state comes after your guns, it is precisely the time for you and all Americans to dig in, and fight for your and their liberty and your and their lives, and freedom’s ring in the American future. That time now has arrived in Virginia. That time has arrived around the nation. We’re left with no choice. Give us liberty or give us death. The fight is on.

      1. johnrandolphofroanoke Avatar

        Mr. Reed I am a big fan of well chosen words. I thought this was a marvelous insight:

        “guns are the deepest taproot of each American’s liberty.”

      2. Amen, we really should sit down over a bottle of fine bourbon.

  10. LarrytheG Avatar

    I think part of the “strong whiff” might be related to the militia movement we’ve seen over the years and those folks are really quite separate from the law-abiding gun owners who just want the ability to own a handgun or long gun for protection and/or hunting.

    Once the police show up – most of the big talkers shut up – and the ones that don’t – go to jail.

    what’s actually proposed in the GA so far:

    Firearm transfers; criminal history record information checks, penalty. (HB2) (SB70) (background checks)

    Manufacture, import, sale, transfer, or possession of undetectable firearms; penalty. (HB427)

    Gun Violence Awareness Day; designating as June 1, 2020, and each succeeding year thereafter. (HJ10)

    Stun weapons; prohibits possession on school property, exempts holder of concealed handgun permit. (SB173)

    Hardly the ” they’re going to take our guns” rhetoric of the willfully ignorant

    Excerpts from polling ( Washington Post-Schar School poll was conducted by telephone Sept. 25-30, 2019
    among a random sample of 876 adults in the Commonwealth of Virginia,

    Thinking about gun issues,

    14. Would you support or oppose
    b. requiring background checks on all potential
    gun buyers, including private sales and gun shows

    favor 88
    oppose 10

    d. a state law allowing the police to take guns away
    from people who have been found by a judge to be
    a danger to themselves or others

    favor 82
    oppose 16

    1. Steve Haner Avatar
      Steve Haner

      Liar. Liar. Pants on fire. You skipped SB 16, the biggest source of concern. And nobody asked a question about confiscation from people with no complaints or records. The Governor has badly overreached.

    2. johnrandolphofroanoke Avatar

      Larry ask Lord Dunmore how things turned out for him back on May 3rd, 1775.

  11. TooManyTaxes Avatar

    So can anyone from the left explain why it’s lawful to have a sanctuary jurisdiction for illegal immigrants but not for gun-owners? It’s clearly constitutional for the United States to deport people who have unlawfully remained in the U.S. beyond their visa allowance or entered illegally. Some of the proposed gun legislation is likely unconstitutional?

    Must the entire society devolve to the intellectual and moral level of the Washington Post?

    1. I’m not from “the Left”, but the difference is this:

      “Sanctuary” cities for undocumented individuals is the proposition that a city’s police force won’t enforce federal immigration laws nor will its police department cooperate with federal agents to enforce federal laws. As much as people on the right have portrayed this as something else, that’s what “sanctuary” cities are: local governments refusing to enforce federal laws. It’s legal. There is no federal law that requires local governments to enforce federal laws or to cooperate with federal law enforcement in the enforcement of federal laws. It is voluntary and these “sanctuary” cities are simply choosing not to volunteer to do it.

      Counties and cities are literal units of the state government created to enforce state laws. “Second Amendment sanctuary cities” are saying, “Even though we are required to enforce state laws, we are not going to do so.”

      1. TooManyTaxes Avatar

        And that argument would also justify state and local officials refusing to cooperate with school integration laws as Virginia officials did in the 1950s and 1960s. There was no statute on the books that required cooperation with federal court orders requiring school integration. The problem is we expect elected officials to follow the laws and not pick and choose. And if I get to pick and choose, so do you.

        I agree with Bosun’s post below that sanctuaries for illegal immigrants and gun owners should be treated the same. But where is the mainstream criticism of the former? Bosun, can you point to anything? Has Northam criticized sanctuaries for illegal immigrants? Just sayin’

        Mental health and screaming and hooting. You should have seen all the suburbanites, many of whom openly professed to be strong Democrats, screaming down other speakers and hooting displeasure on April 24, 2019 at McLean High School at a public meeting on Newport Academy’s proposal to open group homes for teens with emotional or post-drug use problems. I was there. I had to leave the room when teens and their parents who had received help from other service providers were hooted and booed.

        By ignoring laws, government and elected officials encourage this type of behavior and worse.

  12. As I read the article and comments, I am taken back to a time when I was the new kid in the office. Everyone snickered when I was assigned to cover, among others, Sub 1 of House Militia, Police & Public Safety, a.k.a., Gun Sub. This was where good bills left on the wings of angels and bad bills died a quick, but agonizing death, depending on your stance.

    The committee had 4 R’s and 1 D, probably the new guy who lost the coin toss. There was no gun right bill too ludicrous not to move forward. Example: eliminate local police gun buy-back programs. Why? Some elderly woman sold her grandpappy’s Civil War pistol to such a program, thus keeping a bonafide collector from ever having it.

    Despite the best efforts of the chairman, proponents of gun control bills, be they the Superintendent of State Police, local mayors and chiefs of police, or the mother of a student killed in the VT massacre, had to face the barely concealed contempt and distain of the 3 other R member as well as interruptions, cat-calls, and rude remarks of the audience. While the VCDL and NRA representatives presented their remarks in a civil manner, they did nothing to constrain their members rowdy behavior. It was a very disheartening and surprisingly un-Virginian display, especially for the General Assembly.

    Why am I rambling on? The Good Book teaches you to do unto others as you would have them do unto you, or what goes around, comes around. I suspect that many gun rights advocates see that they may receive the same shameful treatment and they dished out, and don’t like it. Maybe the D’s in control will be Christian about it; maybe not.

    Speaking of sayings…My parents taught me that two wrongs don’t make a right. So, if sanctuary cities are BAD, then how can second amendment sanctuaries be good? Just sayin’.

    What about Judge Dillon? It seems to me that the 87 Virginia counties, 10 cities, and 18 towns [out of +/-325 local government units in the state] can pass all the resolutions they want, but unless there is something in the sacred Code of Virginia allowing them to pick and choose what laws they will enforce [regardless of them weed smoking Commonwealth Attorneys], there will be lots of work for local government attorneys.

    Finally, the gun rights playbook demands that more be done about mental health, rather than gun control. How many budget hearings have VCDL/NRA members gone to and spoken in favor of increasing funding and resources? How many of the concern citizens who packed the Second Amendment Sanctuary meetings have contacted their local legislator and asked them to increase mental health funding and treatment? I will go out on a limb and say few or none, but I will concede that I may be wrong.

    In sum, after years of having their way, gun rights advocates fear the future. Maybe they are correct. Only time will tell.


    1. Bosun,

      You are 100% correct. The GOP subcommittees were some of the most heartless I’ve ever seen when it came to gun issues in the past 10 years. Just absolute Grade A jerks. I’m pro-2nd Amendment. But the treatment I saw from some committees was about as disrespectful as one could imagine. Mark Obenshain was an exception. He was always respectful. However, many of these committees/subcommittee members would smirk when the parents of gun violence victims were pouring out their hearts. It really was despicable.

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