Political ads in Georgia’s Republican gubernatorial primary this year may be the most charged of any intraparty battle around the country, especially when it comes to guns.
One ad shows former state Sen. Hunter Hill at a shooting range loading one gun, eyes steady on the camera, and firing another.
“We don’t need a carry permit,” Hill says, “the only thing we need as Americans is the U.S. Constitution. And as governor, I won’t give an inch on our Second Amendment.”
Hill and other Republicans in the primary back some form of a “constitutional carry” law that would allow Georgians to carry handguns without a permit.
In another ad, Georgia’s Secretary of State, Brian Kemp, sits with a shotgun in his lap, surrounded by guns. Next to Kemp is a young man he calls “Jake,” who, for the sake of the ad, at least, wants to date a daughter of his.
Jake reads Kemp’s policy platform, and then Kemp turns to him, “And the two things if you’re going to date one of my daughters?” he asks.
“Respect. And a healthy appreciation for the Second Amendment, sir,” Jake replies.
“We’re going to get along just fine,” says Kemp as he cocks the shotgun in his lap.
The ad drew backlash from around the country months after a gunman opened fire at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., killing 17 people.
The backstory in Georgia
To understand the tension in this GOP gubernatorial primary requires some background — including an unlikely actor, Delta airlines.
Delta is Georgia’s largest employer and is influential in state politics. Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport is Delta’s North American hub and the busiest airport in the world.
When Delta decided to end a discount for travelers to the National Rifle Association convention, that didn’t sit well with Republican Lt. Governor Casey Cagle. So, he killed a tax measure in the state legislature that would have saved Delta and other airlines about $30 million in taxes this year.
“We do have to stand up and fight and do it in a very respectful way, and this was our opportunity,” Cagle said during a recent Fox News interview to talk about a spat he’d had with the airline.
Here’s the catch, he’s the leading candidate for governor in the Republican primary and his opponents are trying to stand out on gun rights too, says Andrea Gillespie, an associate professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta.
Georgia’s GOP controlled legislature has already ended many restrictions on firearms in the last decade (a 2014 law allows firearms in places like schools, bars, and churches. Last year, some places on public college campuses were opened up too.)
That said, policy proposals may not be the easiest way to gain notoriety so, Cagle’s opponents, namely Kemp and Hill, have turned to provocative advertisements.
This may be, “a gamble on the idea that the average Republican voter in a primary race is going to be more conservative and may be jazzed up about this particular issue,” says Gillespie.
And in other state’s Republican primaries, candidates have touted a pro-gun stance in hopes of gaining attention.
Students pushing for gun regulation react
Madeleine Deisen is a senior at a high school in suburban Atlanta where a month after the Parkland shooting, she helped organize a student walkout against gun violence.
Ads like the ones showing up in Georgia’s GOP primary, Deisen says, will alienate young people like her.
“It just grosses me out, honestly.”
Since the walkout at her high school, Deisen hasn’t stopped pushing for tighter gun regulations. “Just things to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers, things like banning bump stocks, red flag laws, those just seem so common sense to me.”
Deisen lives in Georgia’s Republican-controlled 6th Congressional District, where a 2017 special election was the most expensive House contest in U.S. history and where gun regulations are likely to be a prominent issue in this year’s campaign.
For the second year in a row, the high school senior is an intern for a local Democratic candidate. This year, Deisen says, she’s heard many in the party talking more about gun regulations on the campaign trail.
Deisen is just nine days too young to cast a ballot this year, but she’s encouraging others to vote.
“People know me at school as the person that’s always bugging people about voting, and is always like: ‘Early voting! Register to vote!’ ” Deisen says.
The high school senior says she thinks her peers will show up to vote in bigger numbers than past years.”People who have never really talked about voting that much in the past have been talking about it more at school.”
Deisen will get her chance to vote soon, and she said as people her age grow older, they won’t forget what politicians said this year about guns.