Recent data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show it was a factor in nearly 40,000 deaths in the U.S., and President Donald Trump has addressed the issue in his daily White House pandemic briefings.
But it’s not COVID-19 he’s been talking about — it’s guns.
Last Friday, President Trump attacked Virginia in a tweet making an apparent reference to recent gun control measures signed in to law by the state’s Democratic governor, Ralph Northam.
“LIBERATE VIRGINIA, and save your great 2nd Amendment. It’s under siege!,” Trump wrote.
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A CDC report released last June found that 39,733 people died from firearm-related injuries in 2017.
Trump sharpened his rhetoric from the White House podium throughout the weekend during three consecutive pandemic briefings, accusing Northam of wanting to take peoples’ guns away.
“I’m going above and beyond what we’re talking about with this horrible plague. They want to take their guns away. Okay? They want to take their guns away. That’s the Second Amendment. That’s Virginia. You have a governor who really — I guess he should be under siege; he seems not to be. If he were a Republican, he’d be under siege,” Trump said Saturday.
Northam responded to the president’s attacks Sunday on CNN’s “State of the Union,” saying, “This is not the time for divisiveness.”
One lawmaker directly involved in drafting the measures signed into law by Northam earlier this month said that Trump’s effort to tie them to public safety restrictions during the COVID-19 crisis was “paranoid, delusional nonsense.”
“There’s absolutely zero connection at all,” Democratic State Sen. Scott Surovell told ABC News in a phone interview.
“The five measures that we passed have either been in effect in Virginia at prior times in the last 20 years or have been enacted in other states, all of them have passed constitutional muster through multiple court challenges in other jurisdictions and not a single one takes a gun away from a law-abiding person.”
Trump has even voiced support for some of those measures in the past, including a requirement for background checks on all firearm sales and establishing an extreme-risk protective order to allow police to takes guns from someone who has been deemed a danger to themselves or others.
After the Dayton, Ohio, and El Paso, Texas, shootings last August, Trump said, “we must make sure that those judged to pose a grave risk to public safety do not have access to firearms, and that, if they do, those firearms can be taken through rapid due process. That is why I have called for red flag laws, also known as extreme risk protection orders.”
Trump also previously suggested he supported strengthening background checks. “I have an appetite for background checks. We’re going to be doing background checks,” Trump told reporters last August. The effort to expand background checks never made it through Congress.
More than 20,000 of gun rights advocates, many carrying rifles, descended on the Virginia State Capitol in January to protest proposed gun restrictions.
Other new Virginia laws include limiting the sale of firearms to one gun per month, requiring that the theft of a gun be reported to law enforcement, and increasing the penalty for “recklessly” leaving a loaded firearm in the presence of children.
The one-gun-per-month law was previously on the books from 1993 to 2012 and was aimed at keeping guns from Virginia from entering the illicit black market.
The White House did not immediately respond to questions from ABC News about the specific provisions he opposes signed into law by Northam.
Trump’s renewed attacks on Virginia’s gun laws aren’t new. He’s made similar attacks in recent months during political rallies in Iowa, Arizona and New Jersey.
During an interview with Fox Business on Jan. 22, before COVID-19 was blaring in the headlines, Trump told Maria Bartiromo, “I think Virginia is crazy. They want to take away the guns in Virginia. You have a governor that’s — I just can’t believe it — but Virginia’s very much in play. I think we’re going to win the state of Virginia. They want to take everyone’s gun away in Virginia. You can’t do it. You can’t do it. People need that for safety.”