Kansans may not have seen the last of Kris Kobach campaigning next to a replica of a mounted machine gun.
The Republican candidate for governor said he probably will use the Jeep with the replica machine gun again, even after it led Shawnee to apologize for Kobach's display during a weekend parade there.
Political scientists who have followed Kobach’s campaign say the move may help the Kansas Secretary of State in his quest to win the August GOP primary. But it could backfire in the general election, where moderate or left-leaning voters might not be receptive to such a tactic, one said.
"That's red meat for the base," Patrick Miller, a political scientist at the University of Kansas, said about Kobach's parade exhibition. "And that base is going to vote in the primary."
Sign Up and Save
Get six months of free digital access to The Kansas City Star
Michael Smith, a political scientist at Emporia State University, said there's definitely a big swath of the Republican primary electorate that will like Kobach's move. But Smith said it could hurt Kobach if he makes it to the general election.
"Kobach's whole strategy seems to be, 'Well, Donald Trump won this state by 20 points,' " Smith said. " 'So, what do I have to apologize for or backtrack from?' "
Kobach also thought the gun display would help him in the primary, but conceded it would have "a smaller positive effect in the general."
He has defended his decision since it drew criticism Saturday. But he said Monday he is willing to go along with the owner of the Jeep, who said he would make adjustments to the gun to ease fears if it's used again in the future.
"It doesn't really matter," Kobach said of the vehicle painted like an American flag. "The Jeep is really cool either way."
During the social media backlash over Kobach's parade ride, questions were raised over the legality of Kobach appearing with a replica gun that so closely resembled a real weapon. There appeared to be little on the weapon to show it was a fake gun.
Allen Rostron, a constitutional law professor at the University of Missouri-Kansas City who studies gun issues, said in general federal law requires replica guns to have an orange tip.
But it doesn't prohibit the possession of one without it.
"Under federal law it would be a crime, for example, if you started making a bunch of replica guns and not attaching the orange tip," he said. "It could be against federal law for you to do that as the seller of them. But federal law itself doesn't prevent you from removing the orange tip if you want to do so."
Kobach said the Jeep belongs to a friend in Iola, Kan., and that his friend removed the orange plug on the replica gun. But the friend, Kobach said, is going to put the plug back on "so people feel better, even though he's not in violation of the law."
Kobach faces at least three other Republicans for the GOP nomination in August, including Gov. Jeff Colyer.
The governor's spokesman declined comment when asked about the Kobach gun replica over the weekend.
If he wins the primary, Kobach would contend with a Democratic challenger and possibly independent Greg Orman for votes in the general election.
Kobach said the crowd's reaction at Saturday's parade was "overwhelmingly positive," and that the negative reactions have come from "a very tiny group of people on the radical left who have an agenda to make guns socially unacceptable."
Ben Trillo, an Overland Park resident who attended the Old Shawnee Days parade with his family, disputed Kobach's characterization of the crowd's response. "That's a complete lie," he said.
He said Kobach’s Jeep brought an awkward silence where he was in the crowd.
"People were just kind of looking at each other like, 'Is this real life?' " he said.
In its apology, the city of Shawnee said it understood "the concern this caused," and added, "We will be taking steps in the future to try to ensure something similar does not happen again."
Gunsmith Greg Langner was not at the parade, but from the photos he could tell the weapon mounted in the Jeep was a replica at first glance. His tip-off was the metal plate on the right side of the weapon.
"The big thing essentially with prop machine guns is that typically there's a data plate on the gun that identifies it," said Langner, general manager for Tactical Advantage LLC, a gun shop in Overland Park.
Made of 14-gauge steel, the McHB Browning (Ma Deuce) replica machine gun cannot be retrofitted to shoot real bullets.
In an interview Monday, Kobach slammed Shawnee’s apology for his parade ride, defended his campaign tactics and derided those who criticized him.
"You would expect a very liberal place like San Francisco to immediately snap to attention when the left snaps its fingers," Kobach said. "But in Kansas, I didn't expect the city to immediately react the way these few people on the fringe left wanted them to."
A spokeswoman with Shawnee did not immediately respond to Kobach’s comparison on Monday.