Political candidates have long appeared with guns in campaign ads — holding guns, firing guns, and even assembling guns blindfolded. Earlier this month, Georgia gubernatorial candidate Hunter Hill aired an ad showing him loading an assault rifle. The video title? “Liberals won’t like this.”
In the campaign ad, Brian Kemp, Georgia’s secretary of state, sits in a room surrounded by firearms — handguns on a table to his right, rifles on the table in front of him, and what appear to be two AR-15-style guns leaning on the wall behind him. Across his lap he holds a double-barrel shotgun, cleaning it off as he speaks into the camera. Next to him sits a young man in khakis and a tucked-in flannel shirt.
“I’m Brian Kemp, this is Jake, a young man interested in one of my daughters,” he says, motioning to the teenager next to him. “Yes, sir,” Jake responds, looking nervous as he fidgets with his fingers.
“Jake asked why I was running for governor,” Kemp says. Prompted by the candidate, Jake proceeds to list off the reasons from memory — to cap government spending, to “take a chain saw to regulations,” and to “make Georgia number-one for small business.”
“And two things if you’re going to date one of my daughters?” Kemp asks the young man. “Respect,” Jake responds, and “a healthy appreciation for the Second Amendment, sir.”
Kemp then closes the gun, as if it was ready to fire, pointing it toward the teenager.
“We’re going to get along just fine,” Kemp says, as the young man grins anxiously.
To Kemp’s supporters, the campaign ad is a lighthearted portrayal of a protective, gun-wielding Southern father vetting a potential suitor for one of his daughters. But to many viewers, the ad for a Georgia gubernatorial candidate came across as intimidating and a particularly bad example of how to handle a shotgun safely.
The ad, which was posted on Kemp’s campaign social media accounts and aired on local television stations, prompted backlash from viewers.
Many people, including numerous gun owners, took to social media to criticize Kemp’s handling of a potentially loaded firearm. “Since when is it okay for an adult to hold a weapon on a minor, ever? Are you crazy?” one comment on YouTube read.
“I get the frenzy to be the most ‘pro-gun’ guy in the race, but he’s breaking the first two rules of gun safety: treat every gun as if it’s loaded and don’t point a gun at anything or anyone you don’t intend to kill,” another observer wrote on Facebook.
The National Law Enforcement Partnership to Prevent Gun Violence wrote that the ad “delivers a message perpetuating domestic violence and misogyny while modeling egregiously unsafe behavior.” One YouTube commentator wrote that the ad is “almost symbolic” in light of the teenagers speaking out about gun violence following the Parkland shooting.
“It’s like hey kid you don’t have a say in what happens because I get to decide who pulls the trigger,” the observer wrote.
“This is either brilliant satire or one of the most absurd political ads in history,” wrote another viewer on YouTube.
Many viewers sent messages to local television stations, such as 11 Alive, asking them to stop airing the ad. “Made me and my family very uncomfortable,” one person wrote. “We are gun owners and we are outraged,” said another. The station said it was not allowed to take down political ads under Federal Communications Commission rules.
Kemp appeared to shrug off the criticism, almost reveling in it. “I’m conservative, folks. Get over it!” he tweeted.
“He loves his daughters, values our 2nd Amendment rights, and will be an unapologetic fighter for our families as Georgia’s next governor,” Ryan Mahoney, Kemp for Governor spokesman, said in a statement to 11 Alive.
In an email to supporters, Kemp said the “overreaction is insane but I’m not surprised,” according to the Gwinnett Daily Post. He painted critics as liberal “activists.”
“Most are offended by my arsenal of firearms,” Kemp told supporters. “Others think I’m being too protective of my daughters. Some are questioning the legitimacy of my Southern drawl and a liberal lawyer/blogger is even considering a criminal investigation.”
He may have been referring to former Georgia state lawmaker LaDawn Jones (D), who wrote a blog post accusing Kemp of simulating a crime on television.
“As a prosecutor, I prosecuted dozens of individuals, who pulled out a weapon and pointed it at someone with the intent to cause fear in that person,” she wrote. Intentionally pointing or aiming a gun or pistol at another without legal justification is a misdemeanor under Georgia law, even if the weapon is not loaded.
But many observers came out in support of Kemp’s ad, calling it “hilarious” and “clever.” Others argued that Kemp was not clearly pointing the shotgun directly at the teenager.
“A politician who doesn’t feel the need to do things the ‘politically correct’ way and stands for his beliefs, despite knowing that masses of our soft society will be offended,” wrote one YouTube observer. “I’m sold!”
“Great commercial. Mockingly blasts through today’s hyper-PC nonsense,” another person wrote.
Georgia’s primary is on May 22. A poll released Friday by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution/Channel 2 Action News shows Kemp in second place in the race with 10 percent of respondents supporting him, behind his Republican rival Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, with 41 percent.
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