The largest gun rights organization most people have never heard of is expanding into electoral politics as part of a long-term strategy to boost the ranks of lawmakers in Congress who support the Second Amendment.
Through an affiliated super PAC, the United States Concealed Carry Association is investing in the midterm elections on behalf of a handful of Republicans, beginning with Rep. Ted Budd (R-NC), the GOP Senate nominee in North Carolina. Television advertising for Budd and four Republican House candidates marks the first foray into campaigns for an organization with nearly 700,000 paid members nationwide that until now had generally shunned politics.
“We feel like it’s our responsibility to not sit on the sidelines,” Mike Lowney, chief strategy officer for USCCA, told the Washington Examiner in an interview. “We want to make sure our advocacy efforts grow.” Lowney is also the board chairman of the group’s affiliated super PAC, United States Concealed Carry Association for Saving Lives.
USCCA is headquartered in West Bend, Wisconsin, roughly 40 miles north of Milwaukee — and 820 miles from Washington. The group, focused on training people to use firearms for self-defense, boasts 600 employees across the country, 2.25 million followers on Facebook, 200,000 followers on Instagram, and corporate partnerships with some of the biggest brands in the firearms industry, such as Sig Sauer and Beretta.
Over the years, USCCA has periodically harnessed its membership to weigh in on federal gun legislation. The group urged Congress to oppose bans on military-style weapons and advocated “reciprocity” bills that would make concealed carry permits valid across state lines. But until now, the organization had studiously avoided campaign politics and direct, partisan advocacy, concerned about becoming a lightning rod in the political culture wars.
“We believe that the firearm is the most efficient tool to protect yourself and your family,” Lowney said. “It shouldn’t be political.”
USCCA is proud of the fact that it counts many Democratic voters among its members and does not want to be defined as another version of the National Rifle Association, the graybeard of gun rights groups, viewed as an appendage of the GOP.
Of course, given the polarization surrounding the gun issue on Capitol Hill and the Democrats’ near-unanimous support for policies that would make it harder for people to purchase firearms, the NRA’s steadfast support for Republicans is logical. Accordingly, USCCA has similarly found itself making common cause with Republicans — on legislation and now with its political advertising.
In addition to airing television spots backing Budd in the North Carolina Senate race, the group’s super PAC plans to run ads to boost Republicans Eli Crane in Arizona’s 2nd Congressional District, Kevin Kiley in California’s 3rd Congressional District, Wesley Hunt in Texas’s 38th Congressional District, and Anna Paulina Luna in Florida’s 13th Congressional District.
But the group’s cautiousness on the political front was evident in the modest amount of money its super PAC planned to spend, in total, down the stretch of the fall campaign: “high six figures,” an adviser said. In other words, not more than $1 million, although Lowney emphasized the USCCA for Saving Lives super PAC plans to spend incrementally more, each election cycle, into the foreseeable future.
“We need to walk before we run,” he said. “We’re going to learn a lot through this.”
Meanwhile, to differentiate itself from more overtly partisan organizations, the super PAC is running positive television ads that are policy-focused and avoid direct attacks on Democratic candidates.
For instance, the pro-Budd spot tells the story of a woman who uses a firearm for protection from an abuser. Democratic challenger Cheri Beasley, former chief justice of the North Carolina Supreme Court, is never mentioned, let alone criticized.
“My ex threw me down the stairs when I was seven months pregnant. He threatened to kill me and my four young children,” a woman named Jennifer M., described as a domestic violence survivor and responsible gun owner, says, talking straight to the camera. “Thankfully, he’s in prison now. But that won’t last forever — and that’s why I’m a trained gun owner. I need the ability to protect my family.”
Original Location: Gun rights group eyes political expansion with initial 2022 ad buy
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