In the aftermath of the 14 February 2018 mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, gun rights activists and lobbyists, in particular the National Rifle Association (NRA) have come under renewed scrutiny.
In this context, influential gun control advocates shared a letter that, to some, exemplified the influence of the NRA over candidates for political office. On 18 February, the actor and activist Alyssa Milano tweeted a copy of a letter purportedly sent by the NRA to Tim Burns, a candidate for Wisconsin Supreme Court judge.
— Alyssa Milano (@Alyssa_Milano) February 18, 2018
The letter is real. The NRA sent it out a few weeks before the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School. In it, the NRA asked candidates for the Wisconsin Supreme Court to submit a position letter outlining their stance on guns, which the NRA would condense and distribute to its members in the state.
A spokesperson for Tim Burns, a candidate in the nonpartisan judicial primary election, sent us a photograph of the letter and the envelope it arrived in, as well as email correspondence establishing its authenticity. Burns's campaign tweeted a cropped photograph of the letter on 29 January 2018, with one section underlined:
If you choose not to return a position letter, you may be assigned a "?" rating, which can be interpreted by our membership as indifference, if not outright hostility, toward Second Amendment-related issues.
— Tim Burns (@Burns4WI) January 29, 2018
Burns's spokesperson told us they shared a photograph of the letter with a network of contacts, and that it reached Milano, who asked the Burns campaign for permission to share the letter on Twitter.
The NRA letter was addressed "Dear Wisconsin Judicial Candidate," suggesting that it was sent to all three candidates in the 20 February 2018 primary election. We sought confirmation of this from the other two — Judge Rebecca Dallet and Judge Michael Screnock -- but we did not hear back from them in time for publication.
Although the primary was officially nonpartisan, Burns and Dallet appealed to Democrats, while Screnock garnered support from the Republican party.
In the end, Screnock was the only candidate to receive an endorsement from the NRA. In a 13 February press release, the group said Screnock was "the only candidate seeking election to return a position statement indicating his support for constitutional rights. His opponents refused to return a candidate position statement."
Chris Cox, chairman of the NRA Political Victory Fund (the group's political action committee, which hands out grades and endorsements) urged voters to elect Screnock.
Both Screnock and Dallet made it through the primary, and will now be on the ballot for the 3 April 2018 general election to the Wisconsin Supreme Court. Tim Burns failed to make it to the next round.