After Debra Rodman won in a shocking upset in 2017, it became clear the the residents of this Henrico House of Delegates district grew tired of the status quo. With mass shootings not slowing down and Virginian’s directly experiencing the tragedies, Republicans have continued to hold their ground on gun control legislation.
GOP leadership proved this in July after Governor Northam called a special session in order to address gun violence. Instead of allowing any debate on the floor, the Republican leadership of the House, Kirk Cox, and the Senate, Tommy Norment, gaveled the session to a close in less than two hours.
Now as we head towards November in an election year with all 140 seats up for grabs, it appears that we have the first GOP candidate willing to abandon the party line and claim to be in support of common sense gun legislation. Mary Margaret Kastelberg announced on Tuesday that as a mother of two college students, she can no longer ignore the need to take action on gun deaths. “I am concerned about gun violence just like any other mother.” said Kastelberg. “I know this problem is complex and that we cannot prevent every tragedy, but we must take action and try.”
Kastelberg started by calling for more extensive background checks, without calling for all-out universal background checks. “This includes closing the gun show loophole. I believe every person selling a gun at a gun show should be required to conduct a background check.”
She also called for limits on high-capacity magazines. “Those who take part in hunting or marksmanship know firsthand that you do not need a 100-round magazine for recreation.” High-capacity magazines allow a shooter to discharge their weapon for longer bursts without having to reload.
The Republican candidate, took it a step further in her announcement and also called for red-flag laws, which would temporarily remove a weapon from a situation that a judge deemed dangerous. “We can give law enforcement the tools they need to try to prevent these tragedies and protect due process rights of gun owners.” said Kastelberg.
Rodney Willett, the Democrat running in the district echoes other Democrats in the area that have been asking for these actions for years. “We’ve seen this kind of political trickery before.” said Willett. “Ms. Kastelberg said nothing when her chief financial backer, Speaker Cox, blocked all gun safety reforms by shutting down the Special Session on gun violence in 90 minutes.”
Commenters from the right expressed their dissent with the announcement, with one person commenting on Kastelberg’s Facebook post saying it is “Ironic you make this statement in support of unconstitutional restrictions to the second amendment on “Constitution Day”. My patriot ancestors are rolling in their graves.”
Another commenter replied with simply, “Sorry, you just lost my vote.”
The Colonial Leadership Pac, which is associated with House Speaker Kirk Cox (R-Colonial Heights), gave Kastelberg $30,000 in the most recent filing period.
Speaker Cox has led the way for the Republicans in recent years in regards to shutting down any talks of gun control legislation. Democrats can produce tangible proof of this from two months ago when Cox ended the the special session for gun control without hearing any legislation on the floor. “Mary Margaret is part of a diverse slate of Republicans and candidates running based on their own perspectives and viewpoints. We know our candidates reflect the communities they are seeking to represent.” said Parker Slaybaugh, spokesperson for Speaker Cox.
Another interesting piece of information from Kastelberg’s financial records is that she received $60,000 from the RSLC, the Republican State Leadership Committee. The National Rifle Association (NRA) has donated hundreds of thousands of dollars to the RSLC, including $270,000 in 2016.
With Kastelberg’s announcement contradicting the views of her biggest financial backers, some local activists are hesitant to praise Kastelberg.
Robyn Sordelett, a local leader for Moms Demand Action appreciates the sentiment from Kastelberg, but she wants to make sure the correct credit is given in this district. “I believe that gun safety is a nonpartisan issue, here in Virginia and across this country.” said sordelett. “I appreciate that Mary Margaret Kastelberg clearly understands the urgency and her colleagues in her party have a moral obligation to recognize the same. That being said, the credit is to the voters of HD 73 for making gun safety a priority – and for Debra Rodman and Rodney Willett for listening to them.”
Kastelberg has received support from prominent members of the activism sector in regards to gun control. Shannon Watts, the founder of Moms Demand Action, a group dedicated to preventing gun violence, shared the announcement from Kastelberg for her 399,000 followers to see.
Kastelberg is in a tight race in a district that was held by a Republican for several years before the blue wave of 2017. She took a chance with the announcement, abandoning the far-right corner of her base with the potential prospect of convincing moderate Republicans and Independents that voted Democrat in 2017 to vote for her this time.
Kastelberg finished with her announcement by re-iterating her general support of the Second Amendment for law abiding citizens. “I believe my positions are consistent with the Second Amendment, and I will always fight for the right of law-abiding citizens to possess firearms.”