Gun safety group to spotlight state candidates

Giffords PAC is rolling out an award to promote candidates who run on gun violence prevention messages.
Former Congresswoman and gun violence survivor Gabrielle Giffords, right, sits next to Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, center, and Rep. Elissa Slotkin, D-Mich., left, during a rally supporting gun reform legislation at the Michigan State Capitol, Wednesday, March 15, 2023, in Lansing, Mich. (AP Photo/Carlos Osorio)

The gun safety group established by former U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords (D-Ariz.) will spotlight and back state-level candidates in a new award program meant to offer an alternative to the National Rifle Association.

Giffords PAC on Thursday will roll out what it calls the Giffords Champion Award, a contest to promote candidates who run on gun violence prevention messages in upcoming elections, the group told Pluribus News.

“I was once a young state legislator, I know how hard it is to put yourself out there and run for office,” Giffords said in an emailed statement. “The 2024 election is critically important in the fight against gun violence, especially in states and localities. I am excited to see how we can help future gun safety champions win their races this cycle and beyond.”

Kate Moore, Giffords’s political director, said the award would “highlight and support candidates who are jumping in and running for office for the first time or running for higher office because gun safety is a key issue for them.”

“We’re really interested in folks who are running for the first time or running for higher office from the current office they serve,” Moore said.

Gun safety groups scored a series of wins this year in legislatures in Minnesota and Michigan, where Democrats recaptured control of Republican-held legislative chambers in last year’s midterm elections. Gun safety measures won approval in Colorado and Connecticut, and some bills even made progress — though they ultimately did not pass — in conservative states such as Texas and Tennessee.

Gun safety “is no longer a California, Northeast issue,” said Chris Harris, Giffords’s communications director. “It’s an issue that’s relevant and moving forward in red states, purple states, blue states.”

Moore said that in the past many candidates running for office for the first time were likely to hear first from the NRA, a once-powerful political force whose endorsement could make or break a candidate running in a swing district.

“When Gabby ran for office, the first touch she was getting from organizations was the gun lobby, the NRA,” Moore said.

Giffords won election to the Arizona state House in 2000, and to the state Senate in 2002. She ran for Congress in 2006, when incumbent U.S. Rep. Jim Kolbe (R) retired, riding the Democratic wave that year to take a swing seat.

Giffords won re-election in 2008 and 2010. But in 2011, during a “Congress on your corner” event, Giffords was attacked by a man wielding a pistol with a high-capacity magazine. Six people died, including a federal judge. Giffords, shot through the head, barely survived.

Giffords resigned from Congress a year later to focus on her recovery. In the years since, she and her husband, now-U.S. Sen. Mark Kelly (D-Ariz.), established the Giffords umbrella organization to promote gun violence prevention, bring legal challenges and back candidates.

The Giffords PAC spent just under $14 million in the 2021-2022 election cycle, according to federal campaign finance data.