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Ready, aim, fire: Candidates shoot at the government in ads

Several candidates have used their weapons to fire at White House policies -- and it may have helped Joni Ernst win the endorsement of the NRA.
A shooting range in Posen, Illinois, February 14, 2014.
A shooting range in Posen, Illinois, February 14, 2014.

A number of conservative political candidates this year are using their campaign advertisements to take aim -- literally -- against President Barack Obama and his policies.

Earlier this month, Iowa Republican Senate candidate Joni Ernst released an ad where she fires her gun to show her disapproval of "wasteful spending" and the Affordable Care Act. On Tuesday, the National Rifle Association announced its endorsement of Ernst, who has been a lifetime member of the organization and received an "A" rating for her efforts to protect the rights of gun owners.

Will Brooke, a Republican hopeful from Alabama, also took aim at Obamacare in his "Let's do some damage" spot released earlier this year. He ultimately demolished a copy of the bill by putting it through a wood chipper.

Todd Staples, the Texas Commissioner of Agriculture, who ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor this year, brandished a long gun to threaten Obama.

"So Mr. President, if you still want to mess with Texas, we've got a saying for you: 'Come and take it,' " Staples says in the ad.

Republican Montana House candidate Matt Rosendale released a video where he fires a gun against the government's use of drone strikes to fight terrorism. "This is what I think about it," he says as he aims and shoots. While firing from a cannon, Republican candidate John Stone says he needs fellow Georgians' votes so he can "stand up to Obama and defend our Constitution."

Candidates produce such provocative videos to break through the noise and get voters to notice them, said Ed Doyle, administrative consultant for Gun Rights Across America, who is also running for state representative in Rhode Island.

"It's a tough situation we're in, but I think both sides have the right to try to push their message to what they believe in their hearts," Doyle, a Democrat, told msnbc. "I say it really comes down to: if you don't like the ads, shut it off."

"So Mr. President, if you still want to mess with Texas, we've got a saying for you: 'Come and take it.'"'

It's not the first year candidates have fired guns in campaign ads. But it's the first major election year since 26 people, including 20 first-graders, were shot to death in Newtown, Connecticut in December 2012. The massacre prompted Obama to make an unsuccessful push for more gun regulations.

Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia was one author of the most significant gun-safety measure in Congress since the tragedy at Sandy Hook Elementary School. The bipartisan legislation, which would have required background checks for the private sales of firearms, failed in the Senate last April.

But earlier in 2010, Manchin took "dead aim" at cap-and-trade legislation with a rifle during his campaign ad to demonstrate his support for pro-coal legislation. The video serves as an "interesting juxtaposition," said Jim Kessler, senior vice president for policy at Third Way, a Washington-based think tank.

"Unless you're in very particular regions of the country, people don't necessarily equate an ad like that with the tragedy at Sandy Hook. That ad clearly wouldn't work in parts of the country in which people don't own firearms or are generally opposed to them," Kessler, formerly the director of policy and research of Americans for Gun Safety, told msnbc.

Iowa Senate hopeful Bob Quast proclaims his dedication to gun rights by appearing with his Glock pistol in a recent video that put him on the political radar. At one point, he brandishes the weapon and delivers a warning to any potential predator: "Harm my family and I’ll blow your balls off."

Alabama Rep. Steve Hurst, a Republican seeking re-election, currently transports a barbecue grill shaped as a giant revolver on the back of his truck as a prop to demonstrate his backing of gun rights.

Aside from Manchin, a few other Democrats occasionally pack heat in their ads, too. Kentucky Secretary of State Alison Lundergan Grimes, who will likely take on Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell in November, publicly invited him to join her at a shooting range.

Although Democratic Sen. Mark Pryor doesn't show a firearm in his re-election video, he still wants other residents in Arkansas to understand he supports the Second Amendment.

"Nothing in the Obama plan would have prevented tragedies like Newtown, Aurora, Tucson, or even Jonesboro. I'm committed to finding real solutions to gun violence while protecting our Second Amendment rights," Pryor says in his recent spot.

Ron Gould, a Republican who ran in 2012 for the U.S. House in Arizona, took issue with Obamacare when he fired at a draft of the Affordable Care Act.

The candidates are most likely trying to capitalize on "that constitutional feel, that USA freedom, so to speak," Doyle of Gun Rights Across America said.

"I definitely don't oppose it because I see it coming from both sides in ads," he added. "I think a candidate has to find something that is really going to catch some attention. I don't see anything wrong with it."

Kessler of Third Way said he sees it a bit differently.

"These are types of ads that are revving up the base. Americans are not focused on the gun violence we've had in this country," Kessler said. "I think it's unfortunate, but memories have faded."