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Both Koster and Greitens court NRA endorsement

Democratic nominee for governor Attorney General Chris Koster has made the National Rifle Association (NRA) endorsement an open question in Missouri.

While Koster has made a play for the endorsement, Republican nominee Eric Greitens has not ceded his party’s traditional ground.

“The 2nd Amendment is clear,” he says on his website. “I believe we must always defend the right of law-abiding citizens to keep and bear arms. I am a life member of the NRA and a strong supporter of the 2nd Amendment.”

Greitens "Taking Aim"Two of Greitens’ ads have featured him firing guns with voiceover narration.

Koster has built his pro-gun record over his time in the Senate and as attorney general. In 2012, he received the NRA endorsement over Republican candidate Ed Martin.

In 2016, he’s filed a lawsuit supporting University of Missouri System employees’ rights to bring their guns onto college campuses. Koster said he would not have vetoed Senate Bill 656, as Gov. Jay Nixon did, which would loosen concealed carry restrictions and would make “stand your ground” law.

Now Missouri voters wait to see if the NRA opts for rhetoric or record.

How the NRA endorses

Koster’s courting of the NRA represents a zig where most of his party is zagging. Many Democratic members of Congress held sit-ins or filibusters in July over their frustration at being unable to enact gun control measures.

Democratic actions and rhetoric have led many to assume the NRA endorsement is practically a Republican right.

But the association doesn’t take that into account. It endorses candidates through its Political Victory Fund political action committee.

The most important criteria the NRA looks at is a candidate’s record. How have they voted on gun issues and what have they said?

Elected officials tend to have an edge because they have records to point towards. They generally receive grades ranging from “A+” to “F.”

When Koster received an “A” rating in the past, that meant he was a “Solidly pro-gun candidate. A candidate who has supported NRA positions on key votes in elective office or a candidate with a demonstrated record of support on Second Amendment issues.”

But the NRA only looks at a candidate’s record during their most recent term. Whatever Koster did to earn that “A” gets thrown out and he has to reprove his pro-gun values.

For candidates that have never held elected office, the process is simpler. They fill out a questionnaire based on 2nd Amendment issues in their state. Based on their responses, they can receive an “Aq” rating.

The “Aq” rating falls below the “A+” and “A” ratings on the NRA’s scale, but goes above “B.” An “Aq” candidate is a “pro-gun candidate whose rating is based solely on the candidate’s responses to the NRA-PVF Candidate Questionnaire and who does not have a voting record on Second Amendment issues.”

Mary Haggerty, a lead volunteer with Moms Demand Action, a nonpartisan anti-gun violence group that styles itself after Mothers Against Drunk Driving, cautioned that seeking the NRA endorsement could hurt candidates with voters looking for “common sense” gun policies.

“It’s so important for voters to find out where candidates stand on gun safety policies–regardless of a rating from the gun lobby. The polling shows that a majority of NRA Members and gun owners support common sense gun safety measures like background checks on all gun sales,” Haggerty said. “So if these candidates want to court the gun lobby’s extreme leadership who wants to gut our permitting system and put more guns in more places, no questions asked–that is one thing, but if they want to court Missouri voters–gun owners, law enforcement, mayors moms–they need to be on board with gun sense policies like sustaining Gov Nixon’s veto of SB 656.”