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Political journalist Jon Ralston interviews congressional candidate Danny Tarkanian in February Political journalist Jon Ralston interviews congressional candidate Danny Tarkanian in February

Political journalist Jon Ralston interviews congressional candidate Danny Tarkanian in February

By Riley Snyder May 3, 2016

Ads attacking Tarkanian's NRA grade need context

Politicians on both sides often wear National Rifle Association grades as a badge of pride, but one Nevada Republican is fighting off claims that he received a failing grade from the gun advocacy group.

Republican Danny Tarkanian, who’s running for Nevada’s 3rd Congressional District, is the target of a series of Web ads promoted by his primary opponent, state Sen. Michael Roberson, attacking his alleged poor grades from the NRA.

The ads implied that Tarkanian has a poor record on Second Amendment issues, with one claiming that he is "playing games with our gun rights."

tark guns ad1.gif

Only a handful of Nevada lawmakers have been the recipient of NRA F marks. We wanted to know if Tarkanian really received a failing grade, and if so, why.

Failing grade

NRA grades and endorsements are made by lobbyists and analysts who follow state and federal firearm issues, and are generally only supposed to represent a snapshot in time.

"Candidate ratings for previous election cycles were compiled in the year of the election and may no longer accurately represent a candidate’s or elected official’s position or rating," the NRA’s website says. (The NRA did not return our requests for comment on this fact-check.)

Tarkanian’s F grade came a decade ago, during his Tarkanian’s unsuccessful bid for Nevada secretary of state.

But isn’t such a simple snapshot of his position on guns.

During that 2006 race, the pro-gun control Brady Campaign for Gun Violence released a recorded robo-call supporting his candidacy.

Tarkanian told PolitiFact that he doesn’t dispute the grade, but he never solicited the endorsement.

"I didn’t know about it, and I didn’t ask for it," he said. "I have never in my life spoken to the Brady organization."

The timeline on the grade is slightly murky. Tarkanian says he wasn’t involved, and the NRA’s former lobbyist covering Nevada, Carrie Herbertson, passed away in 2014.

But former Brady Campaign president Paul Helmke said someone from the Tarkanian campaign solicited the endorsement, because the group doesn’t typically involve itself in down-ballot races.

"There’s no way we would have been involved in (the) secretary of state race in Nevada unless somebody from the campaign got involved," he said.

Dan Burdish, who served as an unpaid adviser to Tarkanian in 2006, said his memory was fuzzy but he believed the failing grade was due to confusion over some of the topics on the questionnaire.

"It just got screwed up," he said.

Burdish said Tarkanian’s mother, Las Vegas City Councilwoman Lois Tarkanian, contacted the Brady Campaign about endorsing him in the secretary of state race against eventual winner Ross Miller, who got an A from the NRA in 2006.

Lois Tarkanian didn’t return multiple calls seeking comment.

Second Amendment issues didn’t appear to play a major role in the race, as a cached version of Tarkanian’s 2006 campaign website doesn’t mention firearms and a pre-election preview in the Las Vegas Sun doesn’t mention guns.

The F rating resurfaced during Tarkanian’s 2010 run for U.S. Senate, when his then-primary opponent Sue Lowden tried to revive it as a campaign issue.

Tarkanian campaign manager James Fisfis told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2009 that earlier poor grades were the result of a "misunderstanding" with the surveys.

Tarkanian didn’t fill out the questionnaire in 2004 during his run for state Senate, and he received a C+ during his 2012 bid for a U.S. House seat. There’s no record of a grade during his unsuccessful U.S. Senate primary bid in 2010.

Nevada Firearms Coalition president Don Turner said his state-based group gave Tarkanian an A rating in 2014, but doesn’t plan to endorse in the current primary.

Roberson has a consistent A from the NRA, receiving high marks during his 2010 and 2014 state Senate elections.

Tarkanian has generally run on a pro-Second Amendment platform since 2010. He’s written multiple op-eds highly critical of an assault weapon ban and supported reciprocity for concealed weapon permits throughout different states.

On his current campaign website, Tarkanian clearly states his firearm policy: "I oppose any and all efforts to register guns and their owners, and I oppose any and all efforts to restrict the sale or ownership of guns by law-abiding citizens."

Our ruling

A series of Web ads claim Tarkanian has an F rating from the NRA.

Tarkanian did receive an F rating from the NRA in 2006, and he also received the blessing of the pro-gun control Brady Campaign. But NRA endorsements are intended to only last for one election cycle, and Tarkanian has planted himself well within conservative orthodoxy on gun issues at least since 2010. In 2012, the most recent grade available, he earned a C+.

Roberson’s ad cherry-picked a decade-old rating and left out context about Tarkanian’s more recent comments in opposition to gun control. We rate the statement Half True.

Our Sources

Phone interview with Don Turner, May 3, 2016

Phone interview with Dan Burdish, April 27, 2016

Phone interview with Paul Helmke, April 27, 2016

Nevada News and Views, "Tarkanian: Join me in Defending our Gun Rights," April 21, 2016

Phone interview with Danny Tarkanian, April 18, 2016

Email interview with Jeremy Hughes, Michael Roberson for Congress, April 18, 2016

YouTube, "Brady Campaign endorses Danny Tarkanian," April 13, 2016

PolitiFact, "Bernie Sanders’ NRA report card: D-minus is most recent grade," Jan. 20, 2016

Nevada News and Views, "Is Tarkanian a Closet Gun-Grabber?" Dec. 17, 2009

Las Vegas Review-Journal, "Reid foe using Obama tactics," Aug. 31, 2009

Washington Times, "Brady Campaign endorsed Tarkanian in 2006," Dec. 16, 2009

Browse the Truth-O-Meter

More by Riley Snyder

Ads attacking Tarkanian's NRA grade need context

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