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Democrat Candidate’s Shocking Campaign Graphic Features Gun Aimed at Congresswoman Michelle Steel

While Tran has since deleted and revised the graphic, his campaign has yet to issue a public apology for the insensitive, violent implications of the original. 

Late last week, Congressional candidate Derek Tran posted a campaign graphic to Twitter which he hoped would draw attention to his race for California’s 45th Congressional District. It undoubtedly did attract a great amount of attention for the Democrat challenger, but for all the wrong reasons. Namely, Tran’s shocking graphic features a gun pointed directly at the head of his opponent, Congresswoman Michelle Steel.

Unsurprisingly, the provocative image sparked widespread and immediate condemnation from constituents.

The graphic was intended as a critique of Rep. Steel’s strong support for gun rights and her “A Grade” rating from the National Rifle Association. All of this was overshadowed by the disturbing image of a handgun pointed squarely at the Congresswoman’s head.

Many called for Tran to take responsibility for the ad’s troubling imagery. Many of these responses are no longer visible because Tran, deleted the post.

It has since been replaced with an altered version where both Rep. Steel’s head and the gun have been repositioned to avoid the appearance of direct threat. This is a direct acknowledgment that the original had violent implications. Nevertheless, neither Tran nor his campaign team have issued any form of apology and have ignored requests for clarification.

“t’s been over a day. Still waiting on an apology for your original graphic that had a gun pointed directly at Rep. @MichelleSteelCA‘s head,” writes the California Republican Party Twitter/X account.

“Shame on @DerekTranCA45 for quietly trying to dodge responsibility for this. Apologize,” writes the National Republican Congressional Committee Twitter/X account.

In a best-case scenario—if one can believe the visual association was unintentional—it still represents an alarming insensitivity and disregard for Rep. Steel’s safety. At worst, it’s a deeply disturbing dog whistle. 

“Your original tweet had the gun pointed at Rep. Steel’s head; you silently deleted it. But, the damage was done: you sent a murderous message to your deranged fans,” writes one Twitter/X user.

In both the original and revised tweet, Tran mentions the mass shooting in Uvalde, Texas where victims were killed by “weapons of war that have no place in the hands of civilians.” In doing so, he wrongly tries to connect Rep. Steel to a tragic shooting by simple virtue of her support for the Second Amendment. Curiously, both versions of the graphic feature a pistol rather than an AR-15—the weapon used in the Uvalde attack—although both are legal civilian weapons (with the exception of ten states, Texas excluded, where the manufacture, sale, and transfer of assault rifles are prohibited).

This has been another point of confusion—beyond the ad’s haunting implications—for a number of viewers, as it seems to imply Tran’s to ban legal handguns, or at least deliberately conflate them with assault weapons. 

“Tran, himself a veteran, surely understands that the pistol in this picture is not a “weapon of war” in any meaningful sense… Is he seriously advocating for a ban on pistols?” asks pundit Matthew Foldi. “If so, he has even bigger problems than needing to replace his graphic design team immediately.”

On his campaign website, Tran claims that “gun violence is sadly on the top of his mind almost daily.” That makes it all the more concerning that he could publish a graphic that is suggestive of violence against a political opponent, understood its inappropriateness, revise the original, and fail to apologize—all the while demonstrating a lack of sensitivity and, later, a lack of remorse. 

In the end, Tran got what he wanted: he left a lasting impression on voters and made gun violence a key talking point in the race. But, as it turns out, pointing a gun at your political opponent—figuratively or otherwise—puts you on the wrong side of that discussion.

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