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As Shootings Reignite National Gun Debate, NC09 Candidates Offer Stark Differences

People gather at makeshift memorial for the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at a shopping complex in El Paso, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019.
Andres Leighton
People gather at makeshift memorial for the victims of Saturday's mass shooting at a shopping complex in El Paso, Texas, Sunday, Aug. 4, 2019.

As communities in El Paso, Texas, and Dayton, Ohio, mourn the slaying of at least 31 people over the weekend, the Republican and Democratic candidates in North Carolina's Ninth Congressional District race are responding very differently.

In a string of Tweets, Republican Dan Bishop, a state senator, is echoing a recently released ad of his by referring to Democrats who criticize President Trump for inciting racially charged violence with divisive political rhetoric as "crazy clowns."

On the other hand, Democrat Dan McCready tweeted on Sunday: "My heart breaks to learn about a second shooting, this time in Dayton. Laura and I are praying for the victims and their families. We have a crisis in our country and we’ve got to work together to end it."

Late Monday afternoon, in response to a WUNC request for comment on this weekend's shootings, the Bishop campaign sent this statement from the candidate:

"My deepest condolences are for the victims of the crushing tragedies in El Paso and Dayton, their families and communities.  President Trump rightly said that we confront an 'evil contagion' that Americans must unite to defeat.  We must repudiate hateful and violent ideologies and rhetoric.  And we must cooperate without destructive partisanship to find effective solutions that respect and preserve our Constitutional rights."

The candidates' policy positions on guns is as different as their responses to this weekend's shootings.

Just last week, Bishop touted his "A" rating from the National Rifle Association. Recent campaign finance filings show Bishop received $1,000 from an NRA official and another thousand from the National Shooting Sports Foundation PAC.

Where Dan Bishop highlights his positions on guns in ads and social media posts, McCready's stances are a bit more muted, a reflection, perhaps, of what the candidates believe will most motivate the district's voters.

McCready Communications Director Matt Fried sent a lengthy statement from Dan McCready, who on his campaign web site, under the Keeping Our Families Safe link on his issues page, calls for closing loopholes in gun show and online sales.

"Laura and I were devastated to learn about the two tragic shootings this weekend," McCready's emailed statement said. "As the parents of four little kids, we worry just like every parent for the safety of all of our kids. The truth is, our country is in a crisis, and we need leaders to fix it. But politicians in Washington are doing nothing."

McCready pointed out that as a Marine who toted an M-16 in Iraq, he is no stranger to firearms and said the right to hunt and protect oneself can be balanced with legislation aimed at "preventing so many of these senseless tragedies."

"If I have the honor of serving North Carolinians in Congress, I’ll work across the aisle to prevent gun violence through common-sense steps like comprehensive background checks," McCready's statement added.

There are indications the issue of gun violence could resonate with a fair number of North Carolina voters. An Elon University poll in April found shootings in public places topped a list of risks that made North Carolina adults feel very unsafe.

Rusty Jacobs is WUNC's Voting and Election Integrity Reporter.
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