During a televised primary debate, a moderator asked Ernst about the shooting because of an ad she ran that shows her firing in a shooting range and promising to "unload" on Obamacare.
"Mrs. Ernst, a viewer wrote us saying in light of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, the shootings at the Aurora, Colo., theater, and most recently at the UC Santa Barbara campus, 'we have a Joni Ernst in the television ad that is running continuously on all local television stations that contains violent imagery pointing a gun directly at the viewer and vowing to quote ‘shoot them down’ and hateful language directed toward their opponents. Is this really what politics has become in this country?'" the moderator said. "Mrs. Ernst, what do you say to this viewer?"
"Yes, I would say to this viewer that what happened in that shooting and that stabbing is an absolute tragedy," Ernst said. "However, I remain firm in my commitment to the Second Amendment. I have been endorsed by the NRA in this race, and again, just because of a horrible, horrible tragedy, I don’t believe we should be infringing upon people’s Second Amendment rights."
The moderator then asked Ernst if she would change the ad or its timing in light of the UCSB shooting.
"I would not -- no. This unfortunate accident happened after the ad, but it does highlight that I want to get rid of, repeal, and replace Bruce Braley’s Obamacare," Ernst replied, referring to a Democratic Senate candidate. "And it also shows that I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. That is a fundamental right."
Democrats were quick to criticize Ernst on Twitter for characterizing the shooting as an "accident."
.@JoniErnst I won't dismiss a terrible tragedy as an "accident” either - http://t.co/F4DiX41BfH #IASen #IA01
— Dave O'Brien (@OBrienForIowa) May 30, 2014
BREAKING: At KCCI-TV debate just now, @joniernst refers to #UCSBshooting as an "accident." Seriously. #iasen @JenniferJJacobs
— John Del Cecato (@delcecato) May 30, 2014
A spokesperson for Ernst told Business Insider in a statement that Ernst believes the shooting was indeed a "tragedy."
"As she said when she first answered the question, Joni believes that this was a terrible tragedy," spokesman Derek Flowers said. "It's outrageous that Democrats are politicizing and playing gotcha politics with this tragedy."
The Senate primary in Iowa is slated for June 3.
Watch below via Business Insider:
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