Running Women Candidates React — and Don’t — to Parkland School Shooting

The now familiar national split over guns and gun safety was on bold display in the social media feeds of the Democratic and Republican women candidates in our 2018 project.

By Bernadette Berdychowski and Riva Richmond

Left, Morgan Zegers, a Republican candidate for the New York State Assembly, took to the gun range last May. Right, Stacey Abrams, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, received the first-ever Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award in 2014. (Credit: Morgan Zegers' Instagram account, Emily's List)

Left, Morgan Zegers, a Republican candidate for the New York State Assembly, took to the gun range last May. Right, Stacey Abrams, a Democratic gubernatorial candidate in Georgia, received the first-ever Gabrielle Giffords Rising Star Award in 2014. (Credit: Morgan Zegers’ Instagram account, Emily’s List)

As the nation reeled from yet another school shooting — this time one that took the lives of 17 people at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla. — the candidates in our Running Women project took to social media with now familiar emotional cries, prayers and gun-policy proposals.

It was the 239th school shooting since the 2012 mass tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School, and the reactions split along predictable party lines. Democrats in the group called for gun safety legislation including increased restrictions on gun access. Meanwhile, the Republican women, many of whom are gun-rights proponents, offered condolences or remained silent.

“Tonight we mourn, tomorrow we get to work,” former FBI counterterrorism analyst Leah Phifer, a Democratic congressional candidate from Minnesota, tweeted late Wednesday. “We must never stop demanding real, lasting change from our leaders in Congress.”

Phifer also pointed her followers to an article about mass shooters’ common histories of domestic abuse and another female candidate’s call to allow the National Institutes of Health conduct public-health research on gun violence. The suspect arrested in the Florida mass shooting, 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz, had long exhibited troubling behavior. His social media posts included pictures of weapons and dead animals, and he had been expelled from his high school. Yet he was able to buy a gun legally.

New Mexico gubernatorial candidate Congresswoman Michelle Lujan Grisham, who has sponsored several past legislative measures related to gun violence, called on fellow members of Congress to act. “Every student, every child, every family, every person has the fundamental right to live free from the threat of gun violence in their communities,” she tweeted, adding that it is Congress’ responsibility to protect people’s right to live freely, while doing do everything possible to ensure their safety from gun violence.

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Stacey Abrams, who is running for governor in Georgia, and recently received the endorsement of gun-violence prevention organization Giffords, tweeted: “The scale of loss in this mass shooting can be measured in lives taken, dreams unrealized, families shattered by sorrow.”

Several days before the shooting, Abrams released a plan to reduce gun violence in her state that centers around fixing “broken” gun laws and restricting access to firearms for people charged with domestic abuse and sexual assault and who have mental illnesses that risk endangering themselves or others.

“We can protect the 2nd Amendment while also promoting policies that keep firearms out of the wrong hands, reduce the prevalence of gun accidents and suicide, and address critical issues like mental health care access,” she said in a press release.

Fayrouz Saad, who is running for a House seat in Michigan, took to Twitter to call out gun manufacturers, the National Rifle Association (NRA), and the GOP for what she considers deliberate inaction to protect American lives.

“It’s hard to do right when you’re getting millions of dollars to do wrong. If the NRA didn’t own the GOP, we could have sensible gun laws that protect our children’s lives and the Second Amendment,” Saad tweeted. She shared a chart detailing NRA contributions to GOP officials.

New Mexico congressional candidate Deb Haaland urged voters on Twitter to take the Giffords #VoteCourage pledge to unseat members of Congress who are blocking gun reform, and replace them with candidates like her, “who will stand up to the gun lobby and fight for safer communities.”

Meanwhile, Republican candidates Lena Epstein, who’s running for the same Michigan seat as Saad, and Kimberlin Brown, who’s running for a seat from California, shared their thoughts and prayers with Floridians affected by the shootings.

“I will continue to pray for those recovering from the tragedy and continue to pray for the healing of a community that has been so deeply devastated,” Brown tweeted.

Both candidates have been vocal supporters of the NRA. Epstein has touted her NRA membership and concealed carry license online. Brown posted a photo on Instagram at the beginning of this week with the caption: “A great picture from this past Saturday night with friends at the NRA Fundraiser. #2ndAmmendment #NRA.”

South Dakota Congressional candidate, Shantel Krebs, was largely silent on social media after the Parkland shooting. Four days earlier, she spent time with 5,000 gun owners at the Sioux Falls gun show “celebrating the constitutional right to bear arms.”

Also quiet was Morgan Zegers. The candidate for New York State Assembly calls herself “a proud and active member of the NRA” and promises to fight “to repeal the ridiculous restrictions put on New Yorkers by the SAFE Act” on her website, where she is pictured at a shooting range confidently aiming a silver gun.

Update: Later on Feb. 16, Zegers posted a statement on Facebook offering her prayers, voicing support for additional measures in schools to protect students, and promising to work to ensure “firearms are only in the hands of Americans who are in the right and healthy state of mind.”

Posted: February 16, 2018

Bernadette Berdychowski and Riva RichmondRunning Women Candidates React — and Don’t — to Parkland School Shooting