Gun rights group tar­gets House speaker with mailer about rape

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY LAURA VOZZELLA laura.vozzella@wash­

rich­mond— Just ahead of Tues­day’s Repub­li­can pri­mary, a gun rights group has bankrolled a star­tling po­lit­i­cal mailer that por­trays the speaker of Vir­ginia’s House of Del­e­gates as be­ing friendly to rapists.

Next to a photo that shows a woman cow­er­ing be­fore a knifewield­ing as­sailant, the mailer of the Na­tional As­so­ci­a­tion for Gun Rights reads, “When sec­onds count, Bill How­ell wants to leave you de­fense­less!” On the re­verse side, it reads, “Speaker Bill How­ell thinks you should be left vul­ner­a­ble to armed thugs and rapists!”

A cam­paign spokesman for How­ell (R-Stafford) con­demned the mail­ing, which aims to make the case that How­ell fa­vors gun­con­trol mea­sures that would leave crime vic­tims de­fense­less.

“I think it’s pretty low by even to­day’s po­lit­i­cal stan­dards,” How­ell spokesman Matthew Mo­ran said. “He is en­dorsed by the [Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion], 100 per­cent sup­porter of the Sec- ond Amend­ment. If some­one wants to have a con­ver­sa­tion on the is­sues, that’s per­fectly ac­cept­able. But this crosses the line.”

At­tempts to reach the NAGR, which also posted the im­age on its Face­book page, were un­suc­cess­ful Satur­day.

The group has tar­geted a hand­ful of other Vir­ginia Repub­li­cans this year, though at least some of the other mail­ings have been less graphic than one aimed at the speaker. Like How­ell, the other can­di­dates have been en­dorsed by the NRA. The Vir­ginia Shoot- ing Sports As­so­ci­a­tion and the con­ser­va­tive blog Bear­ing Drift have chalked up the NAGR’s ef­forts to a fundrais­ing ri­valry be­tween it and the NRA.

Mo­ran said that the group has spon­sored three anti-How­ell mail­ings in the lead-up to the pri­mary, in which the speaker faces for­mer Stafford County su­per­vi­sor Su­san Stimp­son.

Tim Ed­son, a Stimp­son ad­viser, said that the cam­paign had noth­ing to do with the mailer. But he also de­fended the “edgy” ap­proach as a way to grab at­ten­tion in a race that has Stimp­son at a 7-to-1 fundrais­ing dis­ad­van­tage.

“Our cam­paign in no way co­or­di­nated with that group,” Ed­son said. “I’d say the words and the images used are not how we would have pre­sented the is­sue, but there’s an ugly truth about How­ell’s record on guns.”

Through­out the cam­paign, Stimp­son has ac­cused How­ell of pro­ject­ing a more con­ser­va­tive im­age on spend­ing and other is­sues than his record in Rich­mond sup­ports. Ed­son said that the speaker has of­ten used his power to qui­etly kill gun rights bills.

“He says, ‘Oh, I’m pro-gun.’ Mean­while, he says, ‘Don’t look at th­ese gun bills I’ve sent to this com­mit­tee to die,’ ” Ed­son said.

As for the NRA’s en­dorse­ment, Ed­son at­trib­uted that to the group’s re­luc­tance to cross the speaker.

Mo­ran de­clined to com­ment on Ed­son’s re­marks.

“We’ve run a pos­i­tive cam­paign all along,” he said. “That’s how we’re go­ing to fin­ish.”

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