AUSTIN, Texas — The two ads — displayed on news sites and aimed at Web users with certain ZIP codes — promote the state’s low taxes and gun culture, with one asking, “Is Gov. (Andrew) Cuomo looking to take your guns?”
The other reads, “Wanted: Law abiding New York gun owners looking for lower taxes and greater opportunity.”
The ads lead users to a Facebook page where a letter from Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott, the state’s chief law enforcement official, promotes Texas’ strong economy and lack of an income tax, allowing transplanted gun owners “to keep more of what you earn and use some of that extra money to buy more ammo.”
The ads are a rare burst of political theater from Abbott, a former state Supreme Court justice who has built a reputation as a gentlemanly yet fiercely conservative litigator eager to challenge the Obama administration. In a speech last year, he described his job this way: “I go to the office. I sue the federal government. And then I go home.”
Abbott has been laying the groundwork and raising millions of dollars for a possible run for governor of Texas in 2014, regardless of whether Gov. Rick Perry, his ally and fellow Republican, decides to seek re-election.
Abbott’s ads were paid for not by the attorney general’s office but by his political campaign, Texans for Greg Abbott. A campaign spokesman, Eric Bearse, said the ads began running Wednesday and were “interest targeted” to those in Manhattan and Albany who visited several news sites, including The Wall Street Journal and The New York Times.
Bearse said the ads were created in response to New York’s new gun control laws as well as the executive actions that President Barack Obama announced the same day to curb gun violence. He declined to say how much they had cost Abbott, whose campaign account has grown to $18 million.
“It’s a somewhat unconventional method to weigh in on a very serious issue,” Bearse said. “It makes the point that Texans value freedom, and specifically their freedom to protect themselves. Our state has experienced the largest population growth in the country from places like California and New York because our culture does value freedom.”
The ads illustrate the extent to which the debate over guns and gun violence since the mass shooting at an elementary school in Newtown, Conn., has played out differently in Texas than it has in other parts of the country.
In Texas, guns and the right to carry them continue to be closely linked to the state’s self-image. Those licensed to carry a concealed weapon can do so in restaurants, shopping malls and even the Capitol building in Austin.
Responding to Obama’s gun proposals, Perry said in a statement that he was disgusted to see the political left and the news media use the school shooting to advance a pre-existing agenda, and he suggested that prayers rather than laws were in order.