Near the end of Stacey Abrams’ latest town hall meeting, she heard a question that’s become a near-ritual at these events. A voter wanted to know if talk that Abrams “is going to take away all of the guns” is correct.
Her gun stance is a key factor in the race, not least because she embraces firearms restrictions and openly wars with the gun lobby, a shift that breaks with the party’s decades-old political approach to the debate in Georgia.
And it’s made her a target of Brian Kemp, her Republican opponent, and Second Amendment groups who warn that her approach could lead to more than new universal background checks and longer waiting periods to buy weapons.
Digital ads repeating the words “ban, confiscate, destroy” highlight her sponsorship of House Bill 731, a 2016 measure that would ban assault weapons, large capacity magazine and armor-piercing bullets and allow the Georgia Bureau of Investigation to “seize and take possession of” them.
Below is an annotation of how she answered that question at the McDonough event, with her remarks in italics:
“I am not planning to confiscate and ban guns. This is what I say. I grew up in Mississippi. My great-grandmother taught me how to shoot a shotgun early.
“She taught me two things: One, only shoot things you plan to eat if you’re going to go hunting. I basically eat chicken, so it’s pretty much a wash.
“No. 2, the person who is most responsible is the person who holds the firearm. The first thing you learn is that you’re responsible for safety, and you’re responsible for the safety of those around you.”
Abrams often mentions her Mississippi upbringing on the campaign trail when asked about her gun stance, which she’s also brought up to defend against claims she’s an out-of-state “radical.” Sometimes, she gives it a different twist.
In a recent appearance with late-night host Seth Meyers, she pointed to a freeze-frame of Kemp pointing a shotgun toward a young actor in a campaign ad and said growing up in Mississippi she learned: “Firearm 101 is, ‘Don’t point at people.’ Because Firearm 102 is ‘You go to prison.’”
“So any responsible gun owner should believe that we should have universal background checks. Because a crime in Georgia may not be the same type of crime in another state, (and) we need to know before you get a weapon.”
While Kemp and Republican rivals tried to outdo each other to support gun rights in the primary, Abrams and her Democratic opponent, Stacey Evans, jockeyed over who had the worse NRA rating.
The case that “responsible” gun owners would demand new restrictions was one of the main arguments Abrams made during that nominating contest, and it’s carried over to the general election phase.
It also reflects another core pitch from Abrams: That demanding new limits on guns isn’t a liberal value, but a mainstream one. Her campaign often cites a recent Atlanta Journal-Constitution poll that shows most Georgia voters support additional gun restrictions.
“We need waiting periods because we know that we need time to find out what’s happened. We should make certain that no violent offender, especially a domestic abuser, has the ability to terrorize domestic abusers with a gun.
“We have to make certain that automatic weapons and semi-automatic weapons that fire high-caliber rounds, that assault weapons are not allowed in Georgia.”
She’s referring to her support of the 2016 proposal banning assault weapons, which was authored by Democratic state Rep. Mary Margaret Oliver and never gained any traction.
Left unmentioned is the part of the measure that would give state authorities authority to impound those weapons, a line that Second Amendment boosters such as Georgia Gun Owners have pounced on.
“We have to make sure that we understand that being violent doesn’t mean you’re mentally ill. Being mentally ill doesn’t mean you’re violent. But we’ve got to address both sides of that coin, and that’s why Medicaid expansion is so important because it provides access to mental health treatment and to support throughout the state of Georgia.”
Here, she pivots to a point she often makes. Whether talking about bolstering the economy, helping rural areas, fighting the opioid epidemic or, in this case, gun violence, she is quick to remind voters of her top campaign priority: The expansion of a Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, which Republicans have rejected as too costly.
“I want common sense gun regulation because I believe in the Second Amendment. And if we want to protect the right to bear arms, we’ve got to protect the people in the state of Georgia and that is my mission.”
Had she had another minute, she probably would have also mentioned her vow to repeal the campus gun measure that Gov. Nathan Deal reluctantly signed last year. Still, she closes her answer by invoking a phrase that other advocates of gun restrictions have used to rally support after a string of mass shootings: “Common sense gun regulation.”
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