TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Peter Ambler, Giffords Executive Director
DATE: March 6, 2018
RE: In Emerging Trend, Desperate Republican Candidates Muddying Waters on Gun Safety
President Trump’s embrace of the National Rifle Association (NRA) and his shifting statements concerning gun safety laws are putting Republican candidates in increasingly uncomfortable spots. In the aftermath of the Virginia elections and the massacre at Stoneman Douglas High School, Republicans know that the suburban voters deciding control of Congress are tired of hearing thoughts and prayers while kids and families remain vulnerable. In these communities, the gun violence crisis is a personal issue. They want answers.
This sentiment has rippled into Trump country. Next week, voters in Pennsylvania’s 18th District will go to the polls for a special election to fill a House seat. In a district that Trump won by over 20 points, the Republican candidate, Rick Saccone, finds himself in a race to the finish with Democrat Conor Lamb. In fact, polls are starting to show Lamb with a lead. The National Republican Campaign Committee (NRCC) has desperately sought to find a way to sour voters on Lamb, a former prosecutor and Marine. Their solution? Gun violence prevention.
In a newly released ad, the NRCC accused Lamb of letting criminals walk away from prison and into the streets with guns. Here is a candidate, Saccone, with no plan whatsoever to keep Pennsylvanians safe from gun violence, who would likely listen to the gun lobby’s demands, accusing his opponent of failing to prevent gun violence. This isn’t an isolated incident. The Washington Post recently reported of a mailer that went to Democrats in Allegheny County praising Lamb for protecting Second Amendment Rights.
Republican candidates are trying to muddy the water on gun safety. They realize that voters don’t want candidates who care more about gun rights than the safety of their constituents. In fact, it’s a trend. Just take a look at Virginia last November. As Ed Gillespie continued to fall behind now Governor Ralph Northam, he recognized the danger of being perceived as weak on gun safety among suburban voters.
And, in the final two weeks of the campaign, we saw Gillespie release two misleading ads claiming that Northam made it easier for violent felons and sex offenders to get their hands on guns. The ads were clearly a desperate attempt to deflect attention away from his own disappointing record on public safety. And while Gillespie touted his NRA endorsement on the campaign trail, he consistently avoided detailing his positions on gun policy.
With anger raging at politicians’ refusal to protect kids and communities from shootings, Republicans will continue to struggle to articulate just where they stand on gun safety, and we may well see further attempts to deflect responsibility.