One of the country's leading gun-control groups has entered the Georgia Senate runoffs with a six-figure buy against Republican incumbent Kelly Loeffler.
Brady PAC is running a 30-second ad on television in the state after making a $100,000 purchase, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The ad attacks Sen. Loeffler's record of supporting pro-gun legislation.
"Kelly Loeffler gets appointed to the Senate and her top priority? Cosponsor three bills making it easier for criminals to access guns," a voiceover played during the ad says. "Meanwhile, back in Georgia, our kids are doing active-shooter drills, and gun violence is continuing to rise."
The ad is the first significant spending by any gun-control group in the runoffs. Its focus on Second Amendment issues represents a turnaround from the non-gun ads Brady had run in the 2020 general election. The groups have remained largely absent from the Georgia races even though the outcome will decide which party controls the Senate for the next two years. If Democrats Raphael Warnock and Jon Ossoff defeat both Republican incumbents and take control of the legislative body, the gun bans and other measures favored by President-elect Joe Biden (D.) are more likely to become law than if Republicans retain control.
Political observers in the state say Second Amendment issues are a high priority for many GOP voters.
"Gun rights and gun control are perennially at the top of the political agenda in the state of Georgia," Timothy Lytton, a Georgia State University professor who has written about gun politics in the state, told the Washington Free Beacon. "Gun rights is as strong a motivator issue in Georgia as there is."
David Mustard, a University of Georgia professor whose research on gun issues has been published in academic journals, told the Free Beacon the state is very gun-friendly and pointed to the fact it has one of the highest percentages of adults with gun-carry permits in the nation. "I would think that the gun-control issue would, to the extent that it's discussed, help generate Republican turnout more than Democrat," he said.
Brady PAC did not respond to questions on whether it plans to spend more in the Loeffler race or if it planned to spend money in the race between Sen. David Perdue (R.) and Ossoff.
The two Georgia races offer voters a stark contrast on gun policy. While Loeffler and Perdue have opposed new measures such as bans on guns like the popular AR-15, Warnock and Ossoff have embraced gun-control measures. Ossoff has at times tried to position himself as a Second Amendment defender, but his campaign website highlights his support for bans on "assault weapons and high-capacity magazines" as well as new licensing regimes for owning certain guns. Warnock's record reflects years of gun-control advocacy, oftentimes from the pulpit.
Loeffler's campaign said Warnock is bankrolled by gun-control advocates and would be a deciding vote for new gun laws if elected.
"Raphael Warnock has called gun owners ‘crazy,' believes that ‘guns make people less safe,' lobbied against the Second Amendment, and is bankrolled by anti-gun groups like Brady PAC," Caitlin O'Dea, a spokeswoman for the campaign, told the Free Beacon. "Worse, Warnock would be a rubber stamp for Chuck Schumer to take away guns."
O'Dea pointed to Loeffler's A-rating from the National Rifle Association as evidence she "will always protect the Second Amendment." The NRA has endorsed Loeffler, and its super PAC has already pledged to spend over $1.5 million in the Georgia runoffs—dwarfing Brady's ad buy. The group said the absence of spending from other gun-control groups such as Giffords and the Bloomberg-backed Everytown for Gun Safety is evidence the groups do not think they can motivate voters in the state.
"Restricting the rights of law-abiding Georgians is simply a losing issue in this election," super PAC spokeswoman Erica Tergeson told the Free Beacon.
Lytton said the politics of Georgia favor Second Amendment advocates, especially in a traditionally low-turnout runoff election where each side attempts to motivate its voters to get to the polls without a presidential election to draw them in.
"The gun issue plays an important role in the Republican camp largely because gun rights is a very big motivator issue for voters not just in rural parts of Georgia but also in the Atlanta suburbs," Lytton said. "That helps to explain a little bit why it is that gun-control groups have been less active. And I think that's partly because gun control is not the biggest turnout issue among Democrats."
Mustard said he has not yet seen evidence of a significant shift in attitudes toward gun control among Georgians even with Biden winning the state over President Donald Trump by a slim margin. If anything, he said, he is surprised Republicans have not focused more of their advertising on the issue thus far in the runoff.
"I could imagine Republicans going, ‘either of the Republican candidates is the last step between here and having your guns removed,'" he said. "I haven't really actually seen that as much as I anticipated."