© 2024 St. Louis Public Radio
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

U.S. House GOP candidates Mike Bost and Darren Bailey disagree on federal gun issue

A slate of rifles and other guns for sale.
Joshua Carter
Belleville News-Democrat
U.S. Rep. Mike Bost and former state senator Darren Bailey are both conservative Republicans who say they would stand up for residents’ legal right to possess firearms if elected to represent southern Illinois in Congress.

Editor's note: This story was originally published in the Belleville News-Democrat.

In southern Illinois’ conservative 12th Congressional District, many residents want their elected officials to support gun ownership.

And in the 2024 Republican primary, voters will choose between two candidates who both say they would stand up for residents’ legal right to possess firearms: incumbent U.S. Rep. Mike Bost, R-Murphysboro, and former state senator Darren Bailey, R-Xenia.

Both candidates’ voting records align with National Rifle Association and Gun Owners of America positions on gun legislation, according to a Belleville News-Democrat analysis of bills during their tenure and public statements from the gun rights advocacy groups.

Bost and Bailey each opposed assault weapon bans proposed at the state and federal level, for example. A ban failed in Congress in 2022 and was signed into law in Illinois last year, ending sales of certain kinds of rifles, pistols and shotguns and requiring gun owners to register those they purchased before the law took effect in 2024. Bost and Bailey have both said they won’t register their firearms with the government.

But a federal rule that is headed to the U.S. Supreme Court shows where the candidates disagree on guns.

On Wednesday, Supreme Court justices are scheduled to hear arguments about a ban on bump stocks, a firearm attachment that uses the gun’s recoil to continuously fire the weapon after someone has pulled the trigger as long as they don’t remove their finger. It makes guns capable of shooting hundreds of rounds per minute.

At the direction of former President Donald Trump, the Justice Department banned the devices in 2018 because they were used in a mass shooting that killed 60 people and injured hundreds more in Las Vegas a year earlier.

Bost supported the ban. Bailey opposed it.

On the campaign trail, Bailey has said he doesn’t support any restrictions on guns and criticized Bost’s stance on bump stocks. Bailey instead supports addressing what he believes are the root causes of mass shootings: issues like mental health and poverty. He said he also supports increased security measures in schools, which have been targeted in other shootings.

“I don’t have bump stocks, I have no use for bump stocks, but that is an infringement on the Second Amendment,” Bailey told the BND in February during a campaign event in Millstadt. “... The bottom line is I stand for zero regulations, zero new laws and I believe that our Second Amendment rights shall not be infringed — period.”

Bost and other members of Congress had urged the Trump administration to reevaluate bump stocks after the 2017 shooting at a Las Vegas music festival and applauded the decision that the devices should be regulated because they effectively turn a legal semiautomatic firearm into an illegal machine gun.

“Bump stocks were specifically designed to get around federal law — in place since the 1930s — that prohibits fully automatic weapons,” Bost wrote in a 2018 statement. “It’s possible to find commonsense solutions to reduce the likelihood of tragedies while also preserving the constitutional rights of law-abiding Americans.”

Lawsuits followed the bump stock ban, arguing the devices don’t fit into the technical definition of a machine gun written in federal law like the Justice Department had said they did.

The law says machine guns automatically fire more than one shot with a single pull of the trigger, so the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether the recoil effect of a bump stock propelling a weapon into a person’s finger repeatedly after their first shot constitutes one pull of the trigger or multiple.

The NRA and Gun Owners of America have submitted briefs to the Supreme Court expressing their opposition to the federal rule because they say the machine gun definition doesn’t describe the mechanics of bump stocks.

In his campaign for reelection, Bost is touting a 2024 endorsement from the NRA for his work defending gun owners while in office. The NRA also endorsed Bost’s reelection campaigns in 2022 and 2020, according to the congressman’s campaign website.

“I am a gun owner and I have spent my entire political career standing up for the people so they can have their right to bear arms,” Bost said of his stance on gun rights in a BND interview during a February campaign stop in Albers. He noted that he was a chief co-sponsor of legislation allowing people to carry a concealed firearm in Illinois when he served in the state House in 2013. Bost has represented the 12th District in Congress since 2015.

The primary election takes place on March 19. Early voting is already underway. The winner will advance to the Nov. 5 general election.

Lexi Cortes is a reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio. Belleville News-Democrat visual journalist Joshua Carter also contributed to this report.

Lexi Cortes is an investigative reporter with the Belleville News-Democrat, a news partner of St. Louis Public Radio.