In pictures and rhetoric, guns prominent in Senate campaign

If there is a single ubiquitous image in the campaign for U.S. Senate in West Virginia, it may be Secretary of State Natalie Tennant holding a muzzleloader.

Tennant, the Democratic candidate, often brings the gun, a relic of her college days as the West Virginia University mountaineer mascot, to campaign events and features it in campaign literature.

Rep. Shelley Moore Capito, the Republican candidate, also uses a picture of Tennant holding the muzzleloader, but she uses the image to attack Tennant. In that picture, Tennant is holding the gun at a 2008 rally for then-presidential candidate Barack Obama.

For the Capito campaign, the image is politically valuable not for the gun in Tennant’s hand, but for the dozen or so Obama signs behind her.

If that wasn’t already abundantly clear, it was made so by Capito’s first television ad, which began airing Wednesday.

“Obama tries to limit our rights to own a gun, and Tennant takes to the streets to campaign for him,” a narrator says, over the picture of Tennant in front of Obama signs. But the image is blown-up, cropped and overlaid in such a way that the muzzleloader in Tennant’s hand is blocked out.

The ad uses a picture of Tennant holding a gun, while attacking her for seemingly favoring stricter gun laws.

Asked if it was disingenuous or misleading to edit the ad in a way that blocked the gun, Amy Graham, a Capito spokeswoman, pointed out that they have distributed the photo, gun visible, broadly throughout the campaign.

Both campaigns have gone to lengths to showcase their support of firearms and their opposition to stricter gun laws.

Capito’s campaign has a “Sportsmen for Capito” coalition and says that she is 100 percent pro-second amendment.

Not to be outdone, last week Tennant’s campaign announced a “Gun Owners for Natalie” coalition, touting that she holds a concealed carry permit and that her husband, a Navy Reservist, is qualified on a 9 MM Beretta and an M4 assault rifle.

Depending on the study you look at, West Virginia has either the 10th or the 13th highest rate of deaths from guns, among the 50 states.

The state gets an “F” on its gun laws from the Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence, an advocacy group which also reports a correlation between stricter gun laws and lower gun death rates.

Both candidates said they do not support a failed bipartisan bill from Senators Joe Manchin, D-W.Va. and Pat Toomey, R-Pa., that would have expanded federal background checks to cover private sales like gun shows, with exemptions for sales between family members.

Asked what they would do to lower gun deaths in the state, both campaigns said that they favored stricter enforcement of current law and expanded mental health services.

On Wednesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on protecting women from gun violence.

Among other things, the hearing attempted to promote a stalled piece of legislation that would close a loophole that allows some people convicted of domestic violence to continue to buy or own a gun. Federal law currently prohibits spouses convicted of domestic violence from owning a gun, but the bill, from Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., would expand definitions to prevent, for instance, an abusive boyfriend or a convicted stalker from owning a gun.

Testifying in support of the bill, Jacquelyn Campbell, a professor of public health at Johns Hopkins University, said that gun access is the strongest risk factor for a woman to be killed by an abusive partner and that strengthening gun laws aimed at domestic abusers would help save lives.

“State laws prohibiting firearm possession by people under domestic violence restraining orders reduced intimate partner homicide of women by firearms by 12 to 13 percent,” Campbell said in prepared remarks.

In arguing against the Klobuchar legislation, Joyce Lee Malcolm, a constitutional law professor at George Mason University, told the committee that broadening the definition to include non-married abusive partners would cast too broad a net and punish people retroactively for crimes they’ve already committed.

“Thousands of individuals have made plea bargains,” Malcolm said in prepared remarks. “These individuals would not have known that part of the guilty plea would be to be deprived of the ability to own firearms forever.”

Jennifer Donohue, a spokeswoman for Tennant, said Tennant had not reviewed the specific bill but that she supports banning convicted stalkers and abusive dating partners from buying and owning guns.

Graham would not say whether Capito supported the bill.

Reach David Gutman at, 304-348-5119 or follow @davidlgutman on Twitter.

More News