AUSTIN — A national political action committee that backs more restrictive gun laws has endorsed Democratic Senate hopeful MJ Hegar, becoming the second gun-control group to do so since early last month.
Brady PAC, the political arm of the nation’s oldest anti-gun violence advocacy group, announced on Tuesday it’s swung behind Hegar in this year’s Texas race for U.S. Senate – even before Democrats finish picking a nominee.
Hegar, a decorated Air Force rescue helicopter pilot and former congressional candidate from Round Rock, is in a May 26 runoff against Dallas state Sen. Royce West.
The two are wrestling for the Democratic nomination against three-term Republican Sen. John Cornyn.
Last week, West, after finishing second to Hegar in initial voting, unveiled endorsements by three Democrats who ran unsuccessfully in the primary.
On Tuesday, Brady PAC said it would spend money, although it didn’t say how much, to try to help elect Hegar.
“Brady PAC will be putting their full weight behind MJ’s candidacy and are in discussions on the best way to do that including, online fundraising,” Brian Lemek, Brady PAC’s executive director, said in a written statement.
Asked why Hegar is a better choice than West, Lemek replied, “As a mother, veteran, gun violence survivor and gun owner, MJ understands this epidemic of gun violence and the reasonable solutions to fix it. Royce West, however, has voted multiple times to expand the places people can carry guns, including school grounds, and we think that is unacceptable.”
The gun platforms of Hegar and West largely resemble one another. Both Democrats support a ban of sale of assault-style rifles, a red flag law to allow removal of guns from owners deemed a threat and closing loopholes in background check laws. Hegar has called for repeal of Texas’ open carry of handguns, and West on Tuesday said he voted against the bill and also favors its repeal.
West, though, has drawn some criticism from gun-control activists for coauthoring a bill last year on school marshals.
Expanding on a 2013 program that let teachers and other school personnel who undergo training have weapons at school, the 2019 law erased a requirement that guns be locked up if the school district employee has a lot of contact with students. Supporters said districts should be able to decide whether these employees also can carry concealed handguns when students are present.
Asked Tuesday about the Brady PAC’s move, West, a 27-year veteran of the Texas Senate, defended his vote on the school marshals measure.
“Local school boards have a right to decide what measures they need to take in order to make sure that students and persons within that school are safe, and this is just another tool they can utilize to do that,” he said in a written statement.
“I have supported the Brady group 95% of the time on measures they have proposed over the years,” West said. “Unfortunately, with many groups, that 5% can cause them to go the other way on endorsements sometimes.”
Brady PAC is a sister group to Brady: United Against Gun Violence – formerly the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. The late Jim Brady, who was White House press secretary to former President Ronald Reagan, and his wife Sarah created the group after he was permanently disabled by a gunshot wound suffered during an attempted assassination of Reagan in 1981.
Lemek extolled Hegar’s emphasis on reducing shootings.
On the campaign trail, she often describes herself as a “mama bear” intent on making the country safer for her two young sons.
“Throw in our belief that she is the one to beat Cornyn, Brady’s decision to endorse MJ in the runoff was easy,” he said.
On Feb. 6, the group Giffords also endorsed Hegar. Formed by former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, an Arizona Democrat who was gravely wounded in a gun attack during a 2011 town hall in greater Tucson, the gun-control group at the time assailed Cornyn as “one of the NRA’s favorite politicians.”
Asked about Brady PAC’s endorsement of Hegar, Cornyn spokeswoman Krista Piferrer noted the nation is undergoing a coronavirus crisis.
“We will let the voters decide the appropriateness of the timing of this announcement,” she said in a written statement. “In the meantime, Senator Cornyn is going to keep his focus squarely on helping Texans during this time of need.”