BOSTON — Republican U.S. Senate nominee Gabriel Gomez defended his stance on gun control Friday and lashed out at Democratic nominee and veteran Congressman Edward Markey for alluding to the Connecticut school massacre in a TV campaign ad that criticized Gomez on the gun issue.
The Markey ad uses excerpts of Gomez speaking at a Republican debate in March interspersed with a narrator who says Gomez opposes reinstatement of a federal assault weapons ban and a ban on high capacity magazines "like the ones used in the Newtown school shooting."
Twenty children and six adults died in the Dec. 14 shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
Gomez termed the ad "despicable."
"To attack me on a negative ad like that and to tie me to the Newtown massacre is below the low," Gomez, of Cohasset, told reporters following a campaign stop at a South Boston diner.
A former Navy SEAL and the father of four children, Gomez said he fired all types of weapons while in the military but does not own any guns in his own home. He acknowledged that he opposes federal efforts to ban assault weapons and high-capacity clips but noted that he differed from many Republicans by backing a bill that would broaden background checks to include weapons sold online or at gun shows.
"I bucked my party on that. I bucked the special interests on that to make sure we have the right background checks on gun show sales, and on Internet sales, the same background checks if you buy from a licensed dealer," he said.
The bill sponsored by Sens. Patrick Toomey, R-Pa., and Joe Manchin, D-W.Va., fell short last month of the 60 votes needed to advance, but could resurface in the Senate this summer.
During the primary campaign, Gomez was criticized by fellow Republicans for a letter he wrote to Democratic Gov. Deval Patrick in which he asked to be appointed interim U.S. senator and indicated that he supported President Barack Obama's gun control and immigration policies. He has since said that he does not back the president on banning assault weapons, claiming that the previous ban from 1994-2004 did not reduce gun violence.
Markey strongly defended the ad, which began airing Thursday.
"He is with the (National Rifle Association), and I am against the NRA," Markey said in a telephone interview.
The special election to fill the seat formerly held by Secretary of State John Kerry is June 25.
Markey, who has been under pressure to release his tax returns, said Friday he would make public his last six years of tax returns "very soon." Gomez has released six years of his returns.
Meanwhile, the two campaigns appeared to be making little progress in scheduling debates with a little more than six weeks to go before the election, with both sides accusing the other of foot-dragging.
Gomez, a political newcomer, has called for at least three debates with Markey, who was first elected to Congress in 1976. Markey said he wanted to debate Gomez but did not know about the timing.
A Markey staffer left "multiple voicemails" to Gomez aides seeking to set up debates but the messages have not been returned, according to a letter the Markey campaign sent to the Gomez campaign Friday.
"Your lack of response to our inquiries but continued insistence in press accounts that we are unwilling to debate is perplexing," wrote Sarah Benzing, the Democrat's campaign manager.
Benzing offered to meet on Monday to discuss a debate schedule.
But Gomez insisted it was Markey who was trying to avoid debating.
"I hope eventually he'll have the courage to stand side by side with me and do these debates," he said.
Associated Press writer Steve LeBlanc contributed to this report.