Giffords, a political action committee seeking tighter gun controls, says it will amend an ad attacking U.S. Rep. Mike Coffman after outcry Tuesday about its similarities to a real-life event that left a Colorado high school student dead.
The 30-second spot, part of a $1.5 million ad buy attacking Coffman, featured a hypothetical text-message exchange between a student — Emily — and her mother during an apparent shooting.
Giffords is one of the top outside influences — in terms of money — on the 6th Congressional District race between Coffman, a five-term Republican incumbent, and his challenger, Jason Crow, a Democrat. Guns have been a major topic in the contest.
The ad drew controversy because of its similarities to text messages sent by 16-year-old Emily Keyes to her father just before she was killed in a shooting at Platte Canyon High School in Bailey on Sept. 27, 2006. Keyes’ final text to her family was: “I love u guys.”
Coffman called the spot “beneath human dignity.”
“I can take criticism, but this is gross. This ad should be pulled and someone should be fired,” he tweeted on Tuesday. “The Giffords Super PAC ad is not a hypothetical. It exploits a real and horrible tragedy that happened in Colorado. It is beyond gross to exploit the tragedy for partisan political gain.”
In an interview with 9News later Tuesday, Emily’s father demanded the ad be taken down. In response to the outcry, Giffords — which at first stood by the spot — said it would try to make even more clear that the ad was not supposed to reference any specific shooting or tragedy.
On Wednesday morning Emily’s parents, John-Michael and Ellen Keyes, said Giffords “reached out to us directly to offer both their regret and apologies. They assured us that the similarities were coincidental and they would be altering the advertisement and reposting a new version on social media and other internet sites. We believe that any connection to the tragedy our family experienced was unintentional.”
The Keyeses are founders of the “I Love U Guys” Foundation, which they created to “advocate for school safety without a political agenda,” they said in a prepared statement.
“We respect the ability to exercise a political voice and we understand mistakes happen,” they wrote. “We appreciate the prompt attention paid by the Giffords organization and their commitment to remedy the situation.”
Giffords is named for Gabby Giffords, the former U.S. representative from Arizona who was gravely wounded in a mass shooting in a Tucson supermarket parking lot in 2011.
“This ad was not modeled after any one individual tragedy,” Peter Ambler, the PAC’s executive director, said in a written statement late Tuesday. “We are amending the ad, removing a name all together and making clear that it is not connected to any one incident. Given how many families have experienced gun violence tragedies, there isn’t any name we could have used that wouldn’t be connected to a victim somewhere.”
In the statement, Ambler went on to blast Coffman for not doing enough to prevent gun violence.
A second Giffords spot began airing Tuesday that uses images from the 2012 Aurora theater shooting to cast Coffman as “the NRA’s ‘yes’ man.”
UPDATE: This story was updated at 2:25 p.m. on Sept. 26, 2018, to include comments from the parents of Emily Keyes.