‘I am not separating myself from the NRA’: Sen. Joni Ernst responds to questions about March for Our Lives

Video still of Sen. Joni Ernst on CBS new program Face the Nation, March 25, 2018

Sen. Joni Ernst reaffirmed her support for the NRA on a CBS news program on Sunday, while claiming she is not beholden to the NRA for the almost record-setting amount of money it has spent supporting her since 2014.

The Republican from Red Oak was on Face the Nation to discuss the impact of the Trump administration’s tariff policy on the economy of Iowa, but host Margaret Brennan began Ernst’s segment with a question inspired by Saturday’s March for Our Lives rally in Washington D.C.

“I want to ask you, because you are one of the top 10 recipients of NRA funding in the Senate, your image was being held up by some of those protesters at the rally here in Washington yesterday,” Brennan said. “I wonder how you are responding to these young activists who are calling for gun control.”

It wasn’t just in Washington D.C. that marchers called out Ernst. Ernst’s relationship with the NRA was loudly criticized at the Iowa City March for Our Lives as well, just as it has been at earlier local walk-outs and marches following the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Florida.

North Liberty High School and Middle School students protest gun violence in schools at the corner of Forevergreen road and Highway 965. Friday, March 2, 2018. — photo by Zak Neumann

According to The New York Times, the NRA has spent $3,124,273 to support Ernst, in the form of direct contributions, independent expenditures to support her as a candidate and money spent attacking rival candidates in her 2014 campaign for the U.S. Senate. Ernst was first elected to the Senate in 2014, following the retirement of Tom Harkin, a Democrat who had served in the Senate since 1985. Harkin had a rating of “F” from the NRA, Ernst has an “A.”

Ernst started her reply to Brennan by pointing out that “Many outside organizations will run advertisements,” and that as a candidate, the law prevents her from asking them to stop doing so.

Brennan asked if Ernst was attempting to distance herself from the NRA.

“I am — no, I am not separating myself from the NRA,” Ernst replied.

The senator went on to explain,

I’m a supporter of our Bill of Rights. We have many rights that need to be upheld in the United States. And I would say that I have been a Second Amendment supporter my lifetime.

I was a member of the NRA long before the NRA knew of Joni Ernst, private citizen in Iowa.

Asked what she would say to those who marched in Washington D.C., Ernst replied, “I would say, I — I appreciate the fact that they have the right to peacefully protest and inform the government of what they believe is the right path forward.”

But every citizen, as long as they are law-abiding, also has the right to exercise their Second Amendment right. So, what we don’t want to do as a nation is start stripping rights away from law-abiding citizens.

So, I think that the status quo is not OK. And that’s where these young demonstrators are — are speaking out against. And so we do have to find a way forward, but simply stating we need to get rid of other people’s rights is not the right way forward.

Brennan did not ask Ernst what she thinks the problem with the status quo is, who is “stating we need to get rid of other people’s rights” — Students Against School Shootings and other march organizers have made clear they are not calling for a repeal of the Second Amendment –- or what she thinks the right way forward is. Instead, Brennan moved on to questions about President Trump’s policies on international trade.

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