Before Shooting, A Campaign Season Rife With Gun Rhetoric

January 11, 2011 3:30 a.m.

The person who shot Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-AZ), a federal judge and 18 other people Saturday may or may not have had a coherent political philosophy or a rational motive. But his actions still come after a campaign season rife with gun imagery and borderline violent rhetoric.

There is, of course, Sarah Palin’s map in which targeted districts were marked by crosshairs (spun as “surveyor’s symbols” by Palin aides), but there was much, much more over the 2010 campaign:

Target Practice
Robert Lowry, a Republican challenger to Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schulz (D-FL), stopped by a local Republican event in October. The event was at a gun range, and Lowry shot at a human-shaped target that had Wasserman Schulz’s initials written next to it. He later said it was a “mistake.”

Wasserman Schulz, who defeated Lowry, remembered that incident on Hardball Monday evening.

“Those kinds of actions, words and statements can lead people who are unbalanced to potentially engage and carry out that violence,” she said. “It’s out of line and we’ve got to dial it back.”Machine Gun Social
Dean Allen, a conservative candidate for state office in South Carolina threw a “machine gun social” in September, drawing 500 people for the chance to win a $700 AK-47 semiautomatic rifle. All attendees got to shoot 20 rounds from a machine gun of their choice. (He didn’t win.)

Armed and Fiscally Responsible
Pamela Gorman, a conservative in a crowded Republican primary field in Arizona’s third district, got some much-needed publicity with a web ad that showed a montage of her shooting different kinds of guns. She also blasted out press releases with titles like: “Armed and Fiscally Responsible.” She lost to Ben Quayle, who went on to win the general election and was sworn in last week.

Quayle himself put out a dramatic primary ad that got a lot of attention, in which he spoke directly into the camera, “Barack Obama is the worst president in history. … Somebody has to go to Washington and knock the hell out of the place.”

Shooting With The Candidate
Giffords’ own opponent, Republican Jesse Kelly, had a gun-themed fund-raiser in June in which supporters could come and shoot an M-16 rifle with Kelly. It was promoted thusly: Get on Target for Victory in November. Help remove Gabrielle Giffords from office. Shoot a fully automatic M16 with Jesse Kelly.”

Our Nation Was Founded On Violence
Stephen Broden, a Republican challenger to Rep. Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX), in late October said that violent revolution is “on the table.”

“We have a constitutional remedy here and the Framers says if that don’t work, revolution,” he said. “If the government is not producing the results or has become destructive to the ends of our liberties, we have a right to get rid of that government and to get rid of it by any means necessary.”

“Our nation was founded on violence,” Broden said. He lost the race.

Take No Prisoners
Dale Peterson, Republican candidate for agricultural commissioner of Alabama, ran an ad in May which he posed with a rifle and declared, “I’ll name names and take no prisoners.” He lost the primary.

Gather Your Armies
A month later, Rick Barber (R-AL) drew attention to his Congressional campaign with a TV ad in which he and “the Founding Fathers” discussed the current tax code. At the end of the ad, in which the cameras zoom in on colonial-era pistols several times, one of the Founders says, “Gather your armies.” He also lost his primary.

Cleaning My Guns
About a year ago, Richard Behney, a tea partier from Indiana running for former Sen. Evan Bayh’s seat, told a group of Second Amendment activists that they didn’t have to resort to armed insurrection — “yet.”

“We can get new faces in. Whether it’s my face or not, I pray to God that I see new faces. And if we don’t see new faces, I’m cleaning my guns and getting ready for the big show. And I’m serious about that, and I bet you are, too. But I know none of us want to go that far yet, and we can do it with our vote,” he said.

Second Amendment Remedies
Erstwhile Senate candidate Sharron Angle (R-NV) found herself in June defending comments she had made six months earlier about the Second Amendment.

“People are really looking toward those Second Amendment remedies and saying, my goodness, what can we do to turn this country around? I’ll tell you, the first thing we need to do is take Harry Reid out,” she said.

“I was speaking broadly,” she said later, noting that she had since changed her phrasing to “defeat Harry Reid.”

Armed And Dangerous
This example is a little older, but it’s notable that Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-MN) is one of the few to win her race after repeated references to guns and violence.

In March 2009, she said on a radio show: “I want people in Minnesota armed and dangerous on this issue of the energy tax, because we need to fight back. Thomas Jefferson told us having a revolution every now and then is a good thing. And the people — we the people — are going to have to fight back hard if we’re not going to lose our country.”

A month later, she explained what she meant: “I want my people in Minnesota to be the most educated people. I want them to be armed with knowledge, so they can be dangerous to the policies of the left.”

We Hunt Democrats
Another one from 2009: Rep. Gregg Harper (R-MS) told Politico that he hunts Democrats. Asked about the Congressional Sportsmen’s Caucus, he said, “We hunt liberal, tree-hugging Democrats, although it does seem like a waste of good ammunition.”

Ballots & Bullets
New Rep. Allen West (R-FL) almost hired a Florida talk-radio host, Joyce Kaufman, as his chief of staff. But Kaufman withdrew after media coverage of some of her more fiery statements, such as:

“I am convinced that the most important thing the Founding Fathers did to ensure me my First Amendment rights was they gave a Second Amendment,” she told a tea party crowd last summer. “And if ballots don’t work, bullets will.”

Dead Aim
And let’s not forget the Democrats. When Joe Manchin was running for senator from West Virginia back in October, he released an ad in which he shoots the climate change bill with a rifle.

“I’ll take dead aim at the cap-and-trade bill, because it’s bad for West Virginia,” he said. Manchin won and was sworn in last week. In the wake of the Giffords shooting, he released a statement defending the ad.

“I have never targeted an individual, and I never would,” he said. “The act of a deranged madman who commits a horrific act should not and cannot be confused with a metaphor about a piece of legislation.”

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