Georgia Democratic Senate candidate Raphael Warnock has a history of anti-gun activism dating back to at least 2013 and extending even to messages delivered at the pulpit.
Warnock repeatedly mocked and opposed gun-rights legislation while declaring anti-gun measures moral imperatives during his time as the pastor of Atlanta's Ebenezer Baptist Church. Gun-rights groups hope Warnock's past will repel voters in the January runoff election. Jerry Henry, executive director of Georgia Carry, which has been in political fights with Warnock before, said his past is a liability.
"It will hurt him throughout the state," Henry told the Washington Free Beacon. "Most Georgians understand the necessity of self-defense."
In 2014, Warnock mocked pro-gun lawmakers behind the Safe Carry Protection Act, which allowed concealed carry in churches, among other places. He said the bipartisan bill would serve to arm "crazy people."
"You've got politicians who go to church every Sunday morning and then walk into that capitol, stand under that gold dome, and come up with the dumbest legislation you can ever imagine," Warnock said in a February 2014 sermon. "Think about all the crazy people you bump into just on the routine, every week. On your job, on the street, some of them in church. … Imagine all them people with guns."
While Warnock has not emphasized gun control during his Senate run, gun-rights supporters say his past comments show he would support President-elect Joe Biden's push for new strict anti-gun measures. The race between him and incumbent Republican Kelly Loeffler, a staunch gun-rights supporter, could determine which party controls the Senate. Georgia Carry is mobilizing its 8,000 members against the potential threat for new federal gun laws if Loeffler and fellow GOP senator David Perdue lose.
"We are trying to educate our membership to the possibility of considerable gun control in our future if we allow both our senators to lose," Henry said. "Our national gun rights are at stake, in my opinion."
The Warnock campaign did not respond to a request for comment
The National Rifle Association has also homed in on Warnock's rhetoric on guns. In addition to spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on canvassing and mail ads in the race, the group promoted a social media video on Monday that featured a clip of Warnock mocking the idea of allowing those with state licenses to carry guns in churches. The NRA juxtaposed Warnock's comments against interviews with the stories of two men who shot back at attackers who targeted churches.
Warnock helped lead a failed lobbying campaign to block the Safe Carry Protection Act in 2014 and testified against it at the Georgia House of Representatives. At a rally, Warnock said it was "the gun lobby foisting their agenda on churches, and I think it's a tragic violation of church and state." In a 2014 sermon, he also railed against "Stand Your Ground" laws, which allow people to use deadly force if they are in reasonable fear for their lives without first having to try to retreat.
"No, it's not a ‘Stand Your Ground' law," Warnock said. "It's a shoot-first law. Shoot first, ask questions later."
Warnock, who has been endorsed by the top anti-gun groups in the country, also has a long history of joining anti-gun coalitions. In April 2013, he partnered with then-New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg's Mayors Against Illegal Guns to advocate for federal universal background check legislation on the anniversary of Martin Luther King Jr.'s death. Months later, Warnock participated in a voluntary gun buyback in Atlanta where he publicly criticized citizens who showed up to buy guns from those waiting in line. In a 2015 interview with the liberal outlet Democracy Now!, Warnock quoted King—who was a pastor of Warnock's church—to advocate for new gun control in the wake of the Charleston church shooting. He accused those who oppose some anti-gun measures of being bought off and immoral.
Henry said he expects Warnock's anti-gun support to make it difficult for him to win statewide.
"It will not hurt him in the metro areas but it will not help him there as well," Henry said. "This is a statewide election and he will need to garner all the votes he can muster and that will be very difficult once you get out of the cities."