Guns becoming an issue in Virginia governor's race

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Local,Virginia,Steve Contorno

The debate over gun control sparked by last week's mass killing at a Connecticut elementary school has quickly seeped into Virginia's gubernatorial race.

Terry McAuliffe, the likely Democratic nominee, strongly favors a ban on assault weapons similar to the one passed in 1994 under President Clinton, a close ally of McAuliffe. The original ban expired in 2004, though President Obama may resurrect it.

McAuliffe also called for the return of Virginia's one-handgun-per-month law, a longstanding limit that Republicans successfully lifted earlier this year.

"While we will never know the exact cause of unimaginable violence, our children should know that we're trying our best to make their lives and our commonwealth safer," McAuliffe said.

Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli, the presumptive Republican nominee, ripped McAuliffe's stance as "political opportunism." The state's top prosecutor is siding with Gov. Bob McDonnell, who on Tuesday suggested that giving guns to teachers and principals could prevent school violence.

"Leaving options for defensive schools on the table is wise," said Cuccinelli, who said gun control won't stop the violence.

"If someone can demonstrate a restriction that will help deal with this situation meaningfully and not just make people feel good for doing something [I would consider it]," he said. "But I am totally unaware of any incidents anywhere that gun control would have prevented, and all of the evidence is to the contrary."

Gun issues played almost no role in Virginia's U.S. Senate race this year, even after General Assembly Republicans successfully abolished the one-gun-a-month limit. Democrat Tim Kaine, who has an "F" rating from the National Rifle Association, handily defeated NRA-backed Republican George Allen.

Virginia is one of just two states that will elect a governor next year -- New Jersey is the other -- and so politicians and strategists are likely to pay close attention to how the issue of gun control plays out in the first campaign since the shooting in Newtown, Conn., in which 20 children were massacred.

Cuccinelli's staunch advocacy for the Second Amendment will appeal to his conservative base but could alienate more moderate voters who want to see greater gun control, said Stephen Farnsworth, a political science professor at the University of Mary Washington.

Meanwhile, McAuliffe's call for more restrictions on guns could hurt him outside of his home base in Northern Virginia, where even Democrats are proud gun owners.

"I would expect," Farnsworth said, "that both candidates would prefer not to make gun issues a central part of their campaign."

scontorno@washingtonexaminer.com

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