Va. GOP candidate in tight house race backs gun control

Va. GOP candidate in tight house race backs gun control
Mary Margaret Kastelberg. (Source: Capital News Service)

RICHMOND -- Gun control policy could play a significant role in the 73rd House District race, especially with the Republican contender breaking away from the party’s usual stance on gun control.

Republican Mary Margaret Kastelberg is calling for stricter gun control policies but says her positions are consistent with gun owner’s Second Amendment rights.

“I know [gun violence] is complex and that we cannot prevent every tragedy, but we must take action and try,” Kastelberg said in a press release.

Her opponent, Democrat Rodney Willett, also wants better gun control policy. Kastelberg and Willett are vying to fill the seat currently occupied by Democrat Debra Rodman, who’s running for the state Senate.

Kastelberg is calling for background checks at gun shows, but stops short of Willett’s call for universal background checks.

They both want limits on high-capacity magazines and support “red flag” laws that allow law enforcement to temporarily remove guns from anyone deemed a threat to themselves or another person.

Kastelberg summed up her policy as giving law enforcement the tools they need to prevent tragedies and “protect due process rights of gun owners.”

Willett believes the district’s voters are concerned with a failure of state and federal legislatures to create “better gun control laws.”

“People who identify as conservative Republicans, they are telling me to my face that they are absolutely concerned that their party, that all parties, have not gotten things done in the gun safety area,” Willett said.

Rodman turned the 73rd District blue in 2017, in a tight race - 51.48% to 48.35% - against incumbent John O’Bannon. The district is a highly educated, suburban district where Republicans have been losing votes from women, according to political analyst Dr. Bob Holsworth. This dynamic makes a topic like gun control, which is usually touted by Democratic candidates, pivotal in turning the district.

“What’s fascinating about [Kastelberg] is that she has taken positions that’s almost 180 degrees different than the position that most Republicans have taken previously in Virginia,” Holsworth said.

Though her policy might be different than fellow Republicans, Kastelberg has taken a lot of money from them. In July, the Republican-controlled General Assembly adjourned a special session on gun control without a single bill being considered, saying the session was only intended as “political theater.”

Kastelberg’s coffers rose to over $283,000 through mostly political sector contributions, including $112,500 from Republican State Leadership Committee and a combined $104,050 from other Republican political action committees. Top donors to Willett’s war chest include the political sector and single-issue groups, for a combined 32% of his total donations.

Willett’s top donor is Michael D. Bills, a heavyweight investor in Virginia political races who floated over half a million dollars into Gov. Ralph Northam’s campaign. Bills offered support to candidates who pledge not to take campaign money from Richmond-based Dominion Energy.

This year, 66 people died and 101 victims were injured in mass shootings in the U.S., according to a database that defines mass shootings as a single attack in a public place in which three or more victims were killed. According to ABC News, there have been a total of 19 mass shootings in the U.S so far this year. That includes a shooting in Virginia Beach where a gunman opened fire at a municipal building and killed a dozen people.

Everytown for Gun Safety, a lobby group focused on reducing gun violence, has injected $333,500 into Democratic coffers this election year, according to data from Virginia Public Access Project. National Rifle Association contributions to Republican candidates and leadership total $218,500.

Capital News Service is a program of Virginia Commonwealth University’s Robertson School of Media and Culture. Students in the program provide state government coverage for a variety of media outlets in Virginia.