Stacey Abrams on Tuesday criticized her Democratic opponent for governor for supporting a contentious gun measure, a likely preview of her efforts to try to paint Stacey Evans as a more moderate candidate as the May primary nears.
Abrams, a former Georgia House minority leader, slammed Evans for her stance on Senate Bill 350, which bars local law enforcement agencies from destroying owner-less firearms confiscated during criminal investigations. They must be auctioned off to a wholesaler instead.
The attack came days after the leaders of GeorgiaCarry.org, a gun rights group, told our AJC colleague Jim Galloway it would fight next year to keep it from being repealed. Abrams, who voted against it, sees the vote as a red-line in next year’s race for the Democratic nomination.
“Georgia’s next governor must be prepared to stand up to gun extremists who put dangerous gun laws above common sense, the judgement of local law enforcement, and the safety of the public,” said Abrams spokeswoman Priyanka Mantha. Her statement called the law "extreme and horrifying."
An Evans spokesman, Stefan Turkheimer, panned Abrams for leveling a "misleading negative attack." He said she supported the measure because it was designed to require that guns be treated like other property seized by police while providing local departments with an additional revenue stream.
Evans supports a measure next year that would give police the option to destroy the weapons rather than re-selling them, he added. The campaign also pointed to other Democrats who voted in favor of the 2012 measure, including state Sen. Nan Orrock, an Abrams supporter.
"Ms. Abrams’ choice to attack on this matter is disappointing but unfortunately not surprising," Turkheimer said. "It matches the negative tone her campaign and supporters have set over the last several months."
The criticism came in the form of a press release by the Abrams campaign, and it was the first that took direct aim at Evans in a race that has already been divisive. The two candidates have disagreed on a range of policy issues, and both have divergent approaches over political strategy.
But the debate over firearms has emerged as an early test for both candidates.
Both Abrams and Evans have called for stiff new gun restrictions, marking something of a sea change for Democratic candidates for governor in Georgia. And both have voted largely against gun expansions, including a 2014 measure that vastly expanded where Georgia permit holders can carry their weapons.
But Abrams' sees the 2012 gun auction vote as a chance to drum up support from her liberal base. And her supporters contend the divide has helped her curry favor with gun control groups, such as Courage to Fight Gun Violence, the group founded by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords that endorsed Abrams in November.
The two are racing to compete against one of five top Republican contenders: Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, Secretary of State Brian Kemp, former state Sen. Hunter Hill, businessman Clay Tippins and state Sen. Michael Williams.
More recent AJC coverage of the governor's race: