Generally, being mentioned in a Top Ten list is positive — a sign you’re doing something worth recognition. But Virginia Rep. Barbara Comstock is probably hoping no one will notice her appearance on the notorious list — U.S. House members receiving the most cash from the National Rifle Association.
Comstock lands at No. 10 on the list of House members collecting the most cash from the NRA during their careers — more than $137,000 from the discredited organization charged with opposing every sensible gun reform proposal that would stem the flow of blood in our schools, churches and theaters. The “A” rating Comstock received from the NRA must stand for Arm Americans, because that’s what she’s about.
The Valentine’s Day school shooting in Parkland, Fla., that left 17 students and teachers dead has rekindled the flame for commonsense gun reform activism, spurred by the social media-savvy students who saw their classmates murdered. They have charged all those receiving NRA cash with wearing Badges of Shame. This new generation of gun reform leaders, although only in their first weeks as activists, has drawn a clear line in the sand: if you take NRA cash, you are responsible for the bloodshed.
That should have Comstock worried, because she’s out of step with the voters in her district. Representing Virginia’s 10th district, which stretches westward from the wealthy D.C. suburbs to the West Virginia border, Comstock was named one of the most vulnerable Republican incumbents by the prestigious Cook Political Report, which sees her district as a prime pickup opportunity for Democrats.
Late last year, Comstock enthusiastically voted for one of the Republicans’ top legislative priorities, the Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act of 2017, which would allow dangerous and untrained people to carry loaded, hidden guns in more public places. That vote occurred just days before the five-year anniversary of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, which killed 20 children between six and seven years old, as well as six adult staff members.
Comstock’s Concealed Carry vote was particularly tone-deaf, coming right on the heels of Virginia’s legislative and gubernatorial election, which saw a blue sweep across the Commonwealth. Exit polls showed that gun reform was the second most important issue for voters, just behind health care. Newly inaugurated Gov. Ralph Northam made gun reform a major issue in his campaign against Ed Gillespie, who touted his NRA “A” rating in TV ads.
But Comstock’s record of loosening gun laws doesn’t stop there: she voted to allow people on the terrorist watch list to purchase firearms, voted to give severely mentally ill veterans and Social Security disability beneficiaries easier access to firearms.
In short, there isn’t a pro-gun vote Comstock won’t take, or a Republican talking point she won’t parrot. Comstock even blamed the FBI for the Parkland shooting in a statement, calling out “the system” rather than the ability of a 19-year-old to legally purchase an assault weapon and large capacity magazines.
This may be the year Comstock’s electoral luck runs out. Virginia’s 10th is now a blue district: in 2016, voters went for Clinton over Trump 52-42 percent. In the 2017 state elections, Democrat Northam took more than 56 percent in the governor’s race, winning by 12 percentage points. At the House of Delegates level, seven Republican incumbents with districts touching Comstock’s congressional district were defeated by Democrats. Meanwhile over the last two cycles, support for Comstock has decreased: in 2014 she beat her Democratic opponent by 16 points in her first election to the House, but that margin was down to less than 6 points in 2016.
The combination of the blue wave election results of 2017, the continuing surge of grassroots enthusiasm, and the clear takeaways from exit polling that standing with the gun lobby over the safety of your constituents has political consequences, does not bode well for Comstock.
In the days following the Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, Fla., I knew that the LGBTQ community could be a new driving force in the fight for commonsense gun reform.
Comstock’s history of taking significant amounts of NRA cash might earn her a spot on another list this year — in addition to being No. 10 in NRA blood money — this year, she could be on the list of Republican incumbents who are defeated with the help of Pride Fund to End Gun Violence.
Jason Lindsay is founder and executive director of Pride Fund to End Gun Violence, a PAC that supports state and federal candidates who will act on sensible gun policy reforms and champion LGBTQ equality. To get involved, visit PrideFund.org.