Politics & Government

Progressive vets, gun control advocates join forces on the campaign trail

Democrats are ready to play offense on the issue of gun control — led by a coterie of veteran candidates competing in competitive districts.

A pair of organizations — one led by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, another that supports progressive veterans — will campaign on behalf of more than a half-dozen candidates next month, a tour meant to try and put the issue of gun control front and center in general election battlegrounds.

It’s a newly aggressive approach, reflective of a belief among many Democratic officials that the politics of gun control have shifted in their favor this year after a series of mass shootings.

“For a long time Democrats have been playing defense on issue of gun safety,” said Dan Helmer, vice-president of VoteVets, a group that backs progressive candidates who once served in the military. “We see a trend across the country where, increasingly, the American people are demanding change.”

VoteVets is pairing with Giffords: Courage to Fight Gun Violence, a group that advocates for tighter restrictions on firearm access. The organization is led by the onetime congresswoman from Arizona, who in 2011 was shot in the head in an attack that left six others dead, and her husband, astronaut Mark Kelly.

“These folks are running on gun safety and the problem of gun violence in our country like people haven’t until recently,” said Kelly, who will campaign with each candidate alongside Giffords. “They understand they can run on this issue and win on this issue, and we’re helping them in whatever way we possibly can.”

VoteVets and the Giffords group will campaign on behalf of seven candidates: New Jersey’s Mikie Sherrill in New Jersey’s 11th Congressional District, Chrissy Houlahan and Conor Lamb in Pennsylvania’s 6th and 17th districts, respectively, Jason Crow in Colorado’s 6th district, Gil Cisneros in California’s 39th Congressional District, Amy McGrath in Kentucky’s 6th district, and Elaine Luria in Virginia’s 2nd district.

Each candidate is a veteran of the U.S. armed services and running in a top-tier general election bellwether districts. Most of them are also seeking to represent suburban-heavy districts, areas where Democratic strategists think they can make the most inroads this fall.

The two groups say they think veterans are especially good messengers for policies that restrict access to guns. They have the “platform and credibility” to talk about the issue, Helmer said.

“No one more than vets knows just how deadly some of these weapons can be,” he said. “Nor have others proven so dedicated to defending the country.”

Alex Roarty: 202-383-6173, @alex_roarty