VOL. 133 | NO. 180 | Tuesday, September 11, 2018
Gun Sense Ratings for Republicans Raise Questions for Challengers
By Sam Stockard, Special to The Daily News
Two Republican Shelby County legislators seeking re-election received “gun sense candidate” ratings this year from the weapons safety group Moms Demand Action while also netting good marks from the National Rifle Association, a distinction their Democratic opponents are questioning.
State Sen. Brian Kelsey, a Germantown Republican, and Rep. Mark White, a Memphis Republican, landed the designation after taking a survey this spring in which they pledged to vote in favor of gun safety legislation if elected, according to the website gunsensevoter.org. The organization wasn’t clear on what legislation they pledged to support.
“They make a lot of sense to me,” White said of Moms Demand Action, whom he met with last spring during contentious debate about legislation to arm teachers after a Florida school shooting. White opposed allowing teachers to be armed in Tennessee schools.
Kelsey’s campaign issued this statement when asked whether his NRA rating clashes with the “gun sense candidate” designation. “Sen. Kelsey is the only Tennessee Republican both to be a Moms Demand Action Gun Sense Candidate and to receive A ratings from the NRA because he has taken a reasonable approach to gun legislation. He believes that citizens who go through the process of training and receiving a license should be able to carry firearms.”
Their Democratic opponents, though, are trying to figure out how they received the designation, considering Kelsey, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee, holds a 93 percent rating with the NRA and White got an endorsement from the NRA, which doesn’t always see eye-to-eye with Moms Demand Action, an offshoot of Everytown for Gun Safety in America.
Gabby Salinas, a Memphis Democrat running against Kelsey for the District 31 Senate seat Nov. 6, said she isn’t sure how Moms Demand Action came up with the ratings. She received the “gun sense” rating along with her Democratic primary opponent and Kelsey.
“It would make sense if it was just the questionnaire, that would kind of go along with all three of us getting the designation,” Salinas said. “If it’s (voting) record plus the questionnaire it doesn’t make sense.”
Danielle Schonbaum, the Democratic candidate running against White for state House District 83 in Germantown and East Memphis, said she doesn’t believe those distinctions mesh and accused her opponent of “playing both sides” of the issue. She points out Moms Demand Action gave the questionnaire for the first time this year and could still be tweaking the process.
“We will be addressing that. We do see it as a conflict,” said Schonbaum, who also received the “gun sense” rating.
White, however, said he doesn’t consider the NRA to be “extreme.” And, he looks at Moms Against Action as a pro-Second Amendment group, as well, even though it is against open carry legislation and bills to arm teachers.
“I’m a Second Amendment person, and I think Tennessee has a good handgun permitting system,” White said.
While White refused to vote in favor of arming teachers this year and balked at a constitutional right to carry a firearm without a permit, he has voted in favor of allowing people to carry firearms on boats and to authorize University of Tennessee employees to carry handguns on campus. In addition, he voted to prohibit enforcement of federal gun laws, to prohibit employers from firing employees who store guns in vehicles, to stop public disclosure of concealed handgun permit information and to authorize handguns in parking areas as well as to override the veto of legislation allowing guns in bars.
White did not, however, vote to authorize firearms in public parks, and he voted not to concur with a Senate measure authorizing weapons in public parks. He also received a zero percent rating from the Tennessee Firearms Association on gun rights and ratings of 71 and 79 percent from the NRA.
Kelsey, on the other hand, voted in favor of allowing guns in public parks and for a conference committee report on the bill enabling it to pass. But, like White, he supported legislation allowing UT employees to carry guns, the closing of handgun permit records, the prohibition on firing employees for storing guns in vehicles at work in addition to backing bills allowing guns in bars and guns in parking areas.
Salinas said she admires the work by Moms Demand Action and agreed with the group’s stance against allowing teachers to be armed during the 2018 legislation session. Salinas said she supports hiring more schools resource officers to improve safety for students.
In addition, she said she opposes “constitutional carry” legislation enabling people to carry handguns without obtaining a state conceal-carry permit, except for those with felony convictions or mental problems.
Moms Demand Action issued a statement saying more than 3,000 candidates for state and federal offices have sought and received “gun sense candidate” ratings this election cycle by filling out questionnaires about gun safety issues ranging from red flag laws to background checks to disarming domestic abusers.
The “gun sense candidate” distinction program “casts a wide net to identify people who are running for office on a commitment to enact strong gun laws,” the statement says.
The organization didn’t say whether it considered sitting lawmakers’ votes on previous gun legislation.
Other Shelby County legislative candidates to receive the “gun sense” designation include Democratic Rep. Dwayne Thompson, Democratic Rep. Raumesh Akbari, who is seeking an open Senate seat, Democratic candidate Allan Creasy and Democratic candidate David Cambron.