John Bel Edwards hunter ad

Gov. John Bel Edwards appears in a campaign ad with his son, John Miller Edwards, as the two hold guns and wear camouflage. Edwards, a pro-gun Democrat, has come under fire from President Donald Trump on guns despite the two sharing similar positions. 

In wading into Louisiana’s election for governor, President Donald Trump has deployed a familiar formula for his campaigning in state races, praising the Republican candidate and blasting the Democrat on red-meat conservative issues like gun rights.

But in Louisiana, the candidate he’s attacking – Gov. John Bel Edwards, the incumbent Democrat who frequently plays up his military background and knack for hunting – has long held a pro-gun stance and even compares himself to Trump on the issue.

Edwards, who is trying to remain the only Democratic governor in the Deep South in a Nov. 16 runoff election, chafed at Trump’s suggestion that he is “suspect” on the Second Amendment, saying in an interview he doesn’t know of a policy difference between him and Trump on guns.

“I don’t take a back seat to anybody on this issue,” Edwards said. “It’s a line of attack against me that’s just demonstrably false. I assume somebody has given him that information. I don’t know if that would be my opponent or someone else.”

Edwards is facing Republican businessman Eddie Rispone in the Nov. 16 runoff, and Trump rallied supporters in Monroe Wednesday evening to help Rispone. 

At a separate rally in Monroe Wednesday morning, held in response to Trump’s planned campaign stop, Edwards said “phony Rispone has given (Trump) bad information.”

Trump in recent weeks has repeatedly accused Edwards of being soft on guns, saying on Twitter the governor is “crushing” Louisianans’ Second Amendment rights and that he is “suspect” on the issue. In a video promoted by the state GOP, Trump says “Eddie Rispone will protect your Second Amendment. John Bel Edwards will not.”

The Trump campaign did not return messages seeking comment.

Edwards, Trump and Rispone hold generally the same position on guns.

Rispone, speaking after early voting at Baton Rouge City Hall on Monday, said he couldn’t speak for Trump on why he is attacking Edwards on gun control, adding he is “100% for the Second Amendment.”

Asked at a debate during the primary whether they support requiring background checks for all firearm sales, the two men offered up similar positions. Rispone said he will not “weaken” laws that protect gun rights. Edwards said he does not support requiring background checks for all sales, but he does support background checks for all commercial sales, and he cited Trump’s support in backing a ban on bump stocks.

Background checks on all commercial sales would close a loophole for people who buy weapons at gun shows. Trump has previously indicated support for closing such a loophole.

The governor in an interview also pointed to his support from Richard Lipsey, whose family owns one of the nation’s largest gun wholesalers, Lipsey’s Firearms. He cited his role in passing a change to Louisiana’s constitution in 2012 to make it more difficult to pass gun control laws.

State Sen. Neil Riser, a Columbia Republican who carried the measure, credited Edwards with helping round up votes on the House side, where Edwards was then the leader of the Democrats.

“He played a major role in gathering the votes together,” Riser said. “He agreed it transcends party lines ... I’m appreciative of the fact that he helped recognize that and helped me get that piece of legislation passed.”

Trump is not the only Republican figure attacking Edwards on guns. Republican state Rep. Blake Miguez, of Erath, appears in a Louisiana GOP video released this week that paints Edwards as anti-Second Amendment. The ad cites the governor’s opposition to a move by Miguez and other conservatives to assert a pro-gun position on the state Bond Commission, as well as his affiliation with the Democratic party.

Last year, Edwards opposed the efforts to bar Bank of America and Citigroup from handling financing of state projects because the two firms tightened policies toward commercial clients in the firearms industry soon after 17 people were killed and 17 injured in a February 2018 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in suburban Miami. On the other side of that issue was Attorney General Jeff Landry, a conservative Republican who is close to the Trump administration.

“We saw Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards choose to support anti-gun wall street bankers instead of standing up for every Louisiana firearm owner and firearm business.”

Edwards argued the move could disrupt bond sales and possibly lead to the state paying higher fees. The Bond Commission ultimately approved the controversial decision, drawing a lawsuit this summer even after it reversed itself and awarded work to Bank of America.

The governor made his pro-gun stance a key part of his successful bid for governor in 2015. Coupled with his anti-abortion rights stance, Edwards neutralized two of the biggest cultural flashpoints in southern elections.

In a TV ad released Tuesday that highlights his West Point background, Edwards appears in camouflage next to his son, John Miller Edwards, as the two hold guns and walk through the woods. “Avid hunter” and “pro Second Amendment” appear on screen.

Email Sam Karlin at skarlin@theadvocate.com