Iowa state Sen. Joni Ernst got some national notoriety by talking about castrating hogs, but the candidate for Tom Harkin’s senate seat is taking heat now for an advertisement she is running in which she points a gun directly at the viewer while a narrator promises that she will “unload” on ObamaCare. In a recent Republican debate, she created a headache for herself by dismissing concerns about the ad while referring to the killing spree in Santa Barbara as an “accident.”

“Mrs. Ernst, a viewer wrote us saying in light of the shooting of Congresswoman Gabby Giffords, the shootings at the Aurora, Colo., theater, and most recently at the UC Santa Barbara campus, ‘we have a Joni Ernst in the television ad that is running continuously on all local television stations that contains violent imagery pointing a gun directly at the viewer and vowing to quote ‘shoot them down’ and hateful language directed toward their opponents. Is this really what politics has become in this country?’” the moderator said. “Mrs. Ernst, what do you say to this viewer?”

“Yes, I would say to this viewer that what happened in that shooting and that stabbing is an absolute tragedy,” Ernst said. “However, I remain firm in my commitment to the Second Amendment. I have been endorsed by the NRA in this race, and again, just because of a horrible, horrible tragedy, I don’t believe we should be infringing upon people’s Second Amendment rights.”

The moderator then asked Ernst if she would change the ad or its timing in light of the UCSB shooting.

“I would not — no. This unfortunate accident happened after the ad, but it does highlight that I want to get rid of, repeal, and replace Bruce Braley’s Obamacare,” Ernst replied, referring to a Democratic Senate candidate. “And it also shows that I am a strong supporter of the Second Amendment. That is a fundamental right.”

I think the outrage has been misplaced. People make misstatements all the time, and using “accident” instead of “incident” isn’t really a big deal. What people should focus on is the basis of her reasoning. We get that she doesn’t want to do anything about gun violence and that she wants to take away the health care of approximately 120,000 Iowans. Those are policy preferences, and she can defend them. What’s harder to understand is why she thinks it matters when her ad was made or first aired. The question is about whether it is appropriate (in light of the Santa Barbara tragedy) to run the ad “continuously on all local television stations” when it “contains violent imagery pointing a gun directly at the viewer.”

She doesn’t think it’s insensitive to keep running the ad. She doesn’t seem to understand why some people think it’s insensitive. That ought to be the real scandal here.

Martin Longman

Martin Longman is the web editor for the Washington Monthly. See all his writing at