Jeb Bush's Gun Tweet Backfires Ahead of South Carolina Primary

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush walks past a security guard with a tattoo of the start of the preamble to the U.S. constitution after a town hall meeting with employees at FN Manufacturing in Columbia, South Carolina, on February 16. Social media users around the world have fired back at the GOP candidate for tweeting a photo of a gun with the caption, “America.” Jonathan Ernst/Reuters

Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush's tweet featuring the image of a gun with one word—"America"—has backfired, just days before voters cast their ballots in the GOP South Carolina primary on Saturday.

On Tuesday, the former Florida governor, who is polling fourth among the six remaining Republican presidential hopefuls, toured and held a town hall at FN Manufacturing, a small firearms production factory in Columbia, South Carolina. He tweeted a picture of a gift from the company, an engraved .45-caliber handgun etched with "Gov. Jeb Bush," along with the one-word caption. The gun is shown with the safety removed.


— Jeb Bush (@JebBush) February 16, 2016

In the tweet, Bush initially didn't provide an explanation of why he decided to post the image. He later defended his post, saying he simply wanted to show support for FN Manufacturing employees.

But the message went viral and prompted widespread outrage for its suggestion that the spirit of America was best captured by a sidearm. The New York Daily News called him out on the front page of Wednesday's newspaper with the headline "Dolt .45." Twitter users posted photos of products they think represent the United States more accurately than a gun. Others named a different country and included a photo specific to that particular nation, such as a cup of tea to depict the United Kingdom and a bicycle to stand for the Netherlands. Some critics accused him of tweeting the photo as part of a publicity stunt to gain media attention ahead of the next primary.

Ladd Everitt, director of communications for the Coalition to Stop Gun Violence, says the tweet was an "act of desperation" and "utterly pathetic."

"It offended victims and survivors of gun violence nationwide and reminded the world of how morally bankrupt and ugly our gun culture is," Everitt tells Newsweek.

The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence responded with a video tweet that included news coverage from recent shootings across the country. The group separately replied to his post saying, "America. Where #gunviolence kills 33,000 people per year. Thanks for the reminder, @JebBush."

The reality is that 88 Americans are killed with guns each day, according to Everytown for Gun Safety, a group that seeks the passage of laws at all levels to reduce gun violence. America's gun murder rate is more than 20 times the average of other developed countries', which includes 32 nations with per capita annual income greater than $15,000, according to the group.

Guns are one of the hot-button issues in the current primary season. The Republican candidates have vowed to veto President Obama's executive actions on gun control. Meanwhile, the two Democratic contenders are fighting over who is the top enemy of the National Rifle Association.

The former Florida governor's flagging campaign stayed alive after the New Hampshire primary on February 9, when he came in fourth with 11 percent of support. "This campaign isn't dead," he told his fans that night.

The death of Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia over the weekend has prompted a political debate about whether Obama or the next president should replace the staunch conservative on the bench. Some of the Republican presidential hopefuls, including Bush, have said a nominee suggested by Obama or Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton likely would result in the elimination of the Second Amendment from the U.S. Constitution.

In a prime-time town hall meeting on Thursday, Bush will make his closing arguments to voters in South Carolina before they head to the polls on Saturday.