Giffords, a nonprofit gun safety organization founded by former Arizona Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, is wading into Iowa’s U.S. Senate race with its endorsement of Democratic candidate Theresa Greenfield.
A mass shooting survivor, former Congresswoman Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly founded Americans for Responsible Solutions in response to the 2012 mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School as a way to promote gun safety measures like universal background checks. In 2016, Americans for Responsible Solutions merged with the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence to launch the organization now known as Giffords.
In addition to Greenfield, Giffords also has endorsed Democratic Senate candidates in New Mexico, Colorado, Texas and North Carolina.
“Growing up on my family’s farm, I learned about safe and responsible gun ownership,” Greenfield said in a statement. “Today, as I speak with Iowans across our state, I hear from parents who are afraid for their kids’ safety when they go off to school, and from young people demanding leadership from Washington.
“There are common sense solutions to this crisis that we can all agree upon,” she said, “like expanding criminal background checks, closing loopholes to keep guns away from terrorists and dangerous criminals, and investing in public health research to better understand and combat this threat to public safety.”
Winning Sen. Joni Ernst’s seat in Iowa is a critical piece for Democrats working to retake the Senate in 2020. Greenfield is one of five candidates vying for the Democratic nomination and a chance to go up against Ernst in November.
The U.S. House of Representatives in February 2019 passed House Resolution 8 to require background checks on all guns sales, a bill Giffords’ political director pointed out “has just been sitting on Mitch McConnell’s desk waiting for a vote.”
“There have been a few key Republicans in the Senate who have been pretty actively blocking it, and Joni Ernst is definitely one of them,” Joanna Belanger said. “First and foremost, the longtime goal of our organization, as well as sort of the whole movement, has been making sure that we can close those federal background check loopholes.”
Belanger said Giffords was drawn to Greenfield in part because she is a gun owner and grew up around sport shooting and hunting.
“She just has an approach that I think is very similar to a lot of, not just Gabby’s, but sort of the Giffords approach to common sense gun laws, and one that we really like to lift up and look for in candidates that we’re going to support, of really understanding the culture of Iowans around guns,” Belanger said.
“Where we see people trip up on either side of this issue is when they embrace extremes,” she said, “and voters are smarter than that and they can tell when somebody is grandstanding. That authenticity goes a long way.”
Ernst has long been boosted by the National Rifle Association. In 2019, the Senate was unable to pass legislation to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act due in part to her opposition of closing the “boyfriend loophole” — a provision of Democrats’ platform that the NRA is strongly against.
“Theresa will not sit idly by while gun violence continues to hurt Iowa families,” Gabrielle Giffords said in a statement. “The gun lobby’s deep pockets helped elect Join Ernst and she’s returned the favor with inaction on gun safety legislation, one of the most pressing issues of our time.”
When asked at town hall meetings and by reporters why she doesn’t support taking guns away from all domestic abusers and stalkers, Ernst cites “due process” and concerns that Americans will be unfairly stripped of their 2nd Amendment rights.
“There wasn’t really anything that they [the NRA] could hide behind, they just didn’t want to keep guns out of the hands of domestic abusers,” Belanger said. “It’s a hard pill to swallow.”
By Elizabeth Meyer