“I think women especially have realized they have a strong opportunity to make political change,” Ms. Hashmi said. “For me, I felt not just a deflation of expectation when gun safety laws weren’t passed last summer, but I also noticed there was a more general feeling going around that enough is enough — we’ve given these folks every opportunity to give the public what they want.”
In interviews this week with about two dozen people who live in her senate district, many said they supported restrictions on firearms to prevent gun violence, including suicides. But opinions varied, often significantly, depending on which portion of the district the voter lived in.
Powhatan County is only a 45-minute drive from Richmond but can feel much further away, with its forested fields and hawks circling overhead. There, people said lawmakers in Richmond had gone too far.
Some said they fear that gun control measures being weighed in the state capital in recent days were a prelude to the government seizing all firearms. Seven gun control bills, including measures to limit handgun purchases to one each month, require background checks on gun sales and transfers, and confiscate firearms from people deemed to be a risk to themselves or to others, were being debated in the Virginia House of Delegates this week. Earlier this month, the Senate, split largely along party lines, approved four gun limits, including limiting handgun purchases, allowing municipalities to ban guns in certain public areas, and background checks.
Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, has said he will sign gun restrictions, which would still require redrafting next month to reconcile different language from the two chambers before final legislative passage.
“What I see is that people want to control something they’re afraid of, or they don’t understand,” said Jean Gannon, Powhatan County’s Republican Party chairwoman. “This is just the beginning because the ultimate goal is to take guns from people.”
At the root of this district’s — and Virginia’s — political transition is a slow moving demographic change, a new kind of suburbanization that is sweeping through national politics. From Atlanta to Houston, this pattern is repeating itself — suburban housing developments gobbling up rural areas and farmland and lifting Democrats to power.