The heat is picking up for gubernatorial candidate Hunter Hill on gun rights because of his answer during a candidate forum at the Georgia Bar Media & Judiciary Conference in early March.
Four candidates took part in the forum in Atlanta: Hill and fellow Republican Brian Kemp and Democrats Stacey Abrams and Stacey Evans. During the 90-minute forum, they were asked whether they would support gun control measures similar to those signed into law by Florida Gov. Rick Scott after the school shooting in Parkland, Florida.
Those restrictions include raising the age to purchase a firearm to 21 from 18 and requires a three-day waiting period to purchase a rifle. The bill also banned bump stocks in Florida, a device used in the deadliest mass shooting in United States history in Las Vegas.
Hill is getting into hot water with other Republicans in the race to replace Gov. Nathan Deal, and particularly a group called Georgia Gun Owners, because of his answer on the minimum age to purchase a firearm.
The event was recorded by citizen journalist Nydia Tisdale.
“As it relates to the specific question, of course, if we’re going to have gun laws we’ve got to have parity. If it’s 21 on a handgun it makes sense to make it 21 on the automatic weapons or the semi-automatic weapons,” Hill said during the forum. “But the reality is we can’t let this dialogue, this tragedy, undermine … the future because we’re undermining the bedrock of the Second Amendment.”
On Friday, Hill clarified the remark in a phone interview with The Times, saying it was a 15-second portion of a longer answer about protecting the Second Amendment.
“I said, as it was mentioned in that comment, that I’m for parity in the gun law. I meant that I want parity — I don’t think it makes sense to have different age limits for people to buy weapons. Why should you be able to protect your country with a weapon (in the military) that you can get in the United States, but you can’t get it until 21, when you can protect the country with that weapon at the age of 18,” Hill said. “Then when you come home … you’re not able to then get a pistol to protect yourself and your property. That doesn’t make sense to me.”
Hill said he supports keeping the minimum age to buy firearms at 18 years old and that he supports constitutional carry — being able to carry a firearm concealed without having to apply for a license — and a national reciprocity system that would allow concealed carry licenses from one state to apply in every other state.
However, the NRA has been lukewarm to Hill since he first campaigned for office as a state senator in Atlanta.
Hill started out with a C rating from the gun rights group because of a candidate survey he filled out while running for his seat in District 6 covering portions of Fulton, Dekalb and Cobb counties.
He said on Friday that he couldn’t remember the answer to the NRA question that earned him the grade, but said it was a single answer.
“I just don’t recall it,” Hill said. “It was a nuanced issue.”
Other candidates in the Republican primary are now pouncing on Hill’s NRA record.
“Clay is one of only two candidates that has bore arms in defense of our country,” said Clay Tippins campaign spokeswoman Erinn Robinson in a Friday email. “However, Hunter Hill is one of the only Republicans the NRA has refused to endorse since he started running in 2008.”
Sen. Michael Williams, R-Cumming, has taken to Twitter to attack Hill via GIF showing Hill “swinging both ways” on gun laws and has made the former senator a primary target in his primary bid.
Hill said the attacks are stepping up because of polling data released this spring that shows Hill in second place behind Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle, giving him the best shot of forcing a runoff against Cagle after the May 22 primary.
Hill also said he has never voted against a bill expanding gun rights in Georgia and repeatedly voted for pro-gun bills. Even so, the NRA has never endorsed the candidate even as his grades from the group have improved over the years.
“I know my record, and that record over the course of three combat tours and five years in the state Senate has shown I won’t give an inch on the Second Amendment as governor,” Hill said.