Brady gun safety group makes Texas its No. 1 priority in 2020 elections

WASHINGTON — As the coronavirus outbreak ravages fundraising efforts bypoliticalcampaigns across Texas, the political affiliate of one of the country’s oldest gun violence prevention groups is bringing reinforcements to the state, where it sees Democrats’ efforts to flip the state houses as among the most important races in the nation.

BradyPAC is the latest gun safety group to turn its attention to Texas, planning to spend more than half a million on elections in the state — more than it’s spending anywhere in the nation by far — as it remains the top target in 2020 for groups pushing for new gun laws.

“If you can get Texas passing strong gun laws, I think that sends a really strong message to the rest of the country,” said Brian Lemek, executive director of the political action committee affiliated with Brady, a nonprofit formed in 1974 that advocates for assault weapons bans, red flag laws and stricter gun storage requirements, among other things.

Texas gun rights groups are also stepping up fundraising, warning supporters that they need to help defend 20 seats in the Texas House this fall.

BradyPAC’s spending plans — the full extent of which were shared exclusively with the Houston Chronicle — come as other activists, including the Everytown for Gun Safetygroup backed by former New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, have said they plan to spend millions in Texas on an “unprecedented financial and grassroots effort” to flip the Texas House, defend vulnerable freshmen Democrats in Congress and help Democrats take congressional seats in the suburbs.

The groups hope to build off momentum from a successful campaign in Virginia — the state that is home to the National Rifle Association, where guns emerged as a top issue for voters last year as Democrats claimed control of the state Legislature for the first time in 26 years.

BradyPACsays the coronavirus has added new urgency to its efforts, as gun stores — deemed essential businesses by Texas leaders — post record sales and calls to domestic violence hotlines surge. BradyPAC says it saw donations rise by 15 percent in March.

And if those donations start to drop off, the group says its investment in Texas won’t change, even if it has to cut back elsewhere.

“The Texas investment is not touched, even if we have our worst-case scenario,” Lemek said. “That’s how important it is to us.”

But gun rights groups have vowed to mobilize, as well.

The Texas State Rifle Association has been warning of the type of spending BradyPAC and Everytown are planning. The rifle association declared an early victory in Fort Bend County when Republican Gary Gates beat Eliz Markowitz, a Democrat backed by gun safety groups, in a closely watched special election for state House earlier this year.

“TSRA-PAC will need to be involved in as many as TWENTY state races this fall which are expected to be far more competitive, in order to prevent an anti-gun majority from taking over the Texas House,” the group said in an email to supporters earlier this year. “If we don’t win, universal background checks, red flag legislation, and repeal of campus carry will just be the start of what’s to come!”

BradyPAC plans to pump at least $100,000 in donations directly to campaigns for congressional candidates and tens of thousands on state House candidates. The group’s support comes with joint fundraising opportunities, as well, which could open up a much-needed new source of revenue as campaigns struggle to raise money in the time of coronavirus.

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