This article originally appeared on watchdog.org.
LINCOLN, Neb. â?? There were few surprises during Sundayâ??s U.S. Senate debate, except when the frontrunner, GOP nominee Ben Sasse, seemed to stumble on a question about gun rights just days after beingÂ endorsedÂ by the National Rifle Association.
Sasse earned the highest NRA rating a candidate can get without a voting record, and marked the groupâ??s only endorsement in the general election. But he seemed confused when asked a question about background checks at gun shows byÂ Colleen Williams, anchor for NTV, an ABC affiliate in Kearney.
Hereâ??s what she asked:
â??With countless national incidents, high profile shootings in Omaha, and according to an FBI crime report nearly 81 percent of Nebraska homicides were caused by firearms, do you think the NRAâ??s â??No Compromiseâ?? stance on even the most minimal regulations like no background checks at gun shows is whatâ??s best for the safety of everybody?â?
It was a loaded question, but one that Sasse â?? Â a graduate of Harvard who attended Oxford and got two masterâ??s degrees and a Ph.D. from Yale â?? could be expected to handle with ease, particularly with that NRA endorsement securely under his belt. He mentioned the endorsement as he waded in.
â??My rights as a dad and as a husband to defend my family and to defend my property, pre-date government,â? he said. â??So Iâ??m happy to be a robust defender of the Second Amendment.â?
Then he stunned Williams and others when he essentially said he didnâ??t know what she was talking about.
â??You raise some particular issues around an NRA policy that I donâ??t actually know much about,â? he said. â??One of the things about being a nonpolitician new to this process is Iâ??m comfortable admitting what I donâ??t know. So I donâ??t know the particular issue youâ??re flagging at this point.â?
After he wrapped up and the moderator attempted to move on, an incredulous Williams interrupted to say she was confused, and asked whether Sasse really wasnâ??t familiar with the â??gun show loopholeâ? â??Â a reference to the NRAâ??s steadfast opposition to universal background checks for gun buyers, including at gun shows.
Sasse replied by saying she â??named another one I didnâ??t understand.â?
â??The no compromise stance?â? Williams said.
â??I donâ??t know what that means,â? Sasse said.
Then he turned the tables on Williams, saying her characterization of â??the gun show loopholeâ? is â??pretty obviously a journalistic category to have called it a loophole to begin with.â? Williams seemed taken aback.
â??What is often called the gun show loophole is regularly about family to family transactions,â? Sasse said, addingÂ he doesnâ??t think the government should regulate the sale of guns between fathers and daughters or brothers and sisters.
There are a â??bunch of technical issues there we could certainly unpack,â? he offered before the moderator moved on to the next candidate.
Democratic nominee Dave Domina immediately pounced, saying there should be universal background checks, no exceptions.
â??I do think that what works at Cabelaâ??s works at private guns shows,â? Domina said, referring to the national sporting goods chain.
And then he pounced on Sasse.
â??Itâ??s altogether clear that while while Mr. Sasse may have been endorsed by the NRA, if he doesnâ??t know about the gun show loophole, and if he doesnâ??t know about the â??no changes in the current regulationsâ?? position of the organization thatâ??s endorsed him, heâ??s not worthy of the endorsement,â? he said.
And then DominaÂ pounced on the NRA.
â??The American people have had enough of the NRA,â? he said. â??The NRA is over the top.â?
He said most Americans support reasonable gun regulations, and in states where handgun sales have been regulated, the number of women killed dropped 38 percent.
â??Nobody on this panel, Iâ??ll bet, has enjoyed shooting pheasants more than I,â? he said. â??I love owning a gun. And Iâ??m happy to have anybody know I own it and to have anybody who wants to buy it be checked before they can buy it from me.â?
Asked if Sasse didnâ??t understand the question, Sasseâ??s campaign manager, Tyler Grassmeyer, said Tuesday that Sasse defended the Second Amendment with a â??common-sense answer that cut through the questionâ??s blatantly liberal and anti-gun bias.â?
â??Unlike those who sneer at the 5 million Americans who have joined the NRA, Ben is proud to defend the Second Amendment and fight for the rights of all Nebraskans,â? Grassmeyer said in a statement to Nebraska Watchdog.
The campaign also released a statement from Sasse saying heâ??s proud to be the NRA-endorsed candidate.
â??Nebraskans want a fact-based conversation instead of knee-jerk regulations and that starts by enforcing the laws that are already on the books,â? he said. â??We need to focus on stopping criminals, not criminalizing self-defense â??Â itâ??s as simple as that.â?
That more closely tracks with the NRAâ??s position on the issue. The NRA itself has not responded to a request for comment.