Next year’s Sixth District contest could be an in-your-face debate over guns

Credit: AP Photo/ Rick Bowmer

Credit: AP Photo/ Rick Bowmer

It is possible that, one year from now, voters in Georgia's Sixth District could be witnesses to the one of the fiercest battles over gun violence and gun rights in the nation.

The Democrat is all but certain to be U.S. Rep. Lucy McBath of Marietta, the former Delta Air Lines flight attendant whose teenage son was murdered by a pistol-wielding adult outside a Florida gas station. The incumbent has made combating gun violence the principle focus of her first year in Congress.

We may not know the identity of her Republican challenger until next year’s July primary runoff. Former incumbent Karen Handel is one leading candidate. State Sen. Brandon Beach of Alpharetta is another well-financed contender.

And then there is Marjorie Taylor Greene of Milton, a co-owner of a construction company and mother of three, who has declared her viability with a $500,000 personal loan to her campaign that puts her on financial par with both Handel and Beach.

The National Rifle Association endorsed Handel in last year’s contest against McBath. Beach touts his own NRA rating, though in 2017 he voted against legislation to allow guns on the campuses of Georgia’s public universities.

Yet it is Greene who is poised to run an in-your-face campaign that would put gun rights at the center of her messaging, directly challenging Democratic assertions that GOP reluctance to tackle gun violence — especially in schools — is one of several factors that drove college-educated women (and men) of the Sixth District into their arms last November.

Though a first-time candidate, Greene has an extensive history of video posts on the internet, sometimes echoing the darker suspicions of gun rights advocates.

"Hey, friends. I've got a question for you. How do you get avid gun owners and people that support the Second Amendment to give up their guns and go along with anti-gun legislation?" Greene asked in an Oct. 5, 2017, video posted on the Facebook page of a group called American Truth Seekers.

The date is important. Late on Oct. 1, 64-year-old Stephen Paddock had taken a hammer to the window of his high-rise hotel in Las Vegas and began shooting through the broken pane into a country music festival below. Fifty-eight people died. More than 500 were wounded.

Four days later, wearing a “Don’t tread on me” ball cap, Greene mused about the possibility that the Las Vegas massacre was a massive conspiracy intended to help pass gun control measures.

“Is that why the country music festival was targeted — because those would be the people that we would relate to? Are they trying to terrorize our mindset and change our minds on the Second Amendment? Is that what’s going on here?” she asked.

“I have a lot of questions about that. I don’t believe Stephen Paddock was a lone wolf. I don’t believe that he pulled this off all by himself, and I know most of you don’t, either.”

It wasn't a one-off eruption. Five months later, on Facebook, Greene passed along rumors of an FBI cover-up in its investigation of the Las Vegas massacre. "Every American knows we have been lied to," she wrote.

Federal and local authorities would eventually conclude that Paddock did indeed act alone, a verdict that Greene says she now accepts.

“I’m satisfied with the results of the investigation, and that they did not show a second shooter, accomplice, or even a motive,” Greene wrote in response to several questions I posed — after she turned down a phone conversation.

Greene said that, two years ago, she was only expressing the same bewilderment that many others were. “Like millions of Americans, I had questions and demanded answers as to what happened in the confusing days following the Las Vegas shooting,” she wrote this week.

Greene is a believer in political theater. In April, on the website, Greene posted a video of two D.C. confrontations with David Hogg, the young man who became an anti-gun violence advocate after a shooter killed 17 classmates in his Parkland, Fla., high school on Feb. 14, 2018.

In Washington, Hogg was apparently lobbying for “red flag” legislation that would allow police or family members to petition a judge to order the temporary removal of firearms from someone who presents a danger to others or themselves. McBath is sponsoring one such bill.

In that same post, Greene asserts that citizens should be allowed to "own the same guns our government owns just as the Founding Fathers did in their day."

As for those of her gender who are drifting away from an absolutist defense of the Second Amendment, she wrote:

"I am now in a place in my life where I actually consider women who are American citizens, who are mothers, mostly the same skin color as mine, around my same age, and women that I could relate to on so many levels, as my enemies."

Whether that kind of message resonates in north metro Atlanta will be an interesting test of the current political climate. But should she make it to the general election, Greene would in fact have something in common with McBath: A campaign inspired by biography.

Greene says she came by her support for gun rights in 1990, when she was a 16-year-old junior at South Forsyth High School in Cumming.

One morning that September, a fellow student came to school with a duffel bag that contained a shotgun, a rifle, a pistol and a pound of black powder. He held nine fellow students for several hours — but eventually dropped his guard and was overcome by his hostages.

No one was hurt, and Greene was not among those confronted by the young shooter — who was later sentenced to eight years in prison. (He was paroled in 1993, on the promise that he would seek psychiatric help and leave the county.)

“I was in math class that morning when our school went on lockdown,” Greene wrote. “Not one adult had a gun to protect all of the innocent kids and adults in our school. Our lives were in the hands of a very mentally disturbed and emotionally distraught teenager.”

Greene says she would make overturning the 1996 federal statute barring guns in school zones a top priority in Congress. She favors arming some — though not all — teachers and administrators on school staffs, but thinks armed security is a better answer.