SIOUX FALLS, S.D. (KELO) — After only about an hour and a half’s notice, Brian Bengs, a democratic nominee for U.S. Senate, was sitting in a chair at KELO-TV in Sioux Falls on the afternoon of Thursday, May 26. He was here to talk about a number of things, beginning with guns in the wake of the devastating Texas school shooting that had occurred just days before.
“My position with the NRA (National Rifle Association) would probably not be favorable,” Bengs began, prompted by a discussion of incumbent John Thune’s A+ rating by the gun rights organization. “I am a gun owner,” he continued after speculating he would likely receive a C or D rating. “I have, I’m going to assume, probably more guns than John Thune given the variety of things that I have.”
Bengs is a career military man, having served as an airman in the U.S. Navy. He enlisted at the age of 17 and says he joined the Navy to see the world. “I joined the Navy and I was assigned to an aircraft carrier that was in dry-dock in Philadelphia for the entire time, so the world was southern Philadelphia.”
Bengs’ military career continued as an officer after he graduated from law school, and he spent 19 years in the service. After all this time in the military, Bengs has a very in-depth knowledge of guns. “I’m quite familiar with firearms,” he said.
Due to this, he is not in favor of what he calls absolute gun control.
When it comes to the subject of mass gun violence such as that which unfolded in Texas, Bengs says action must be taken. “We need to do something,” he said. “We must do something because there’s too many people dying — my position is, we need to do something. At a minimum, common sense background checks.”
Some people should not have firearms, according to Bengs. “For example, the individual who shot up the school. He should not have had access to a weapon.”
“As I said, I’m a gun owner. I’ll say I have somewhere in the neighborhood of 8 or 9 weapons at my house,” said Bengs, again emphasizing his belief in background checks. “Are people still going to be able to get guns? Well if they are, they’re going to have to jump through more hoops. It should not be easy for an Al Qaeda terrorist, as happened in 2019, to be able to walk into a gun store and say ‘I’ll take that one’ and then go shoot up a Navy base.”
Despite his insistence on background checks, Bengs is not an advocate of firearms bans.
Asked about the AR-15 rifle, a gun that has entered the national mass consciousness due to its involvement in many of the nation’s largest mass shooting events, Bengs delved into what he believes makes firearms dangerous, and why a ban on AR-15s may not help.
“The factors that make a particular firearm dangerous in the context of mass shootings like this are capacity of fire and rate of fire,” explained Bengs. “That is what is the key attributes to the military-style weapons.”
Bengs points out that an AR-15 is not a fully automatic machine gun, something occasionally attributed to it, and again alluded to his desire for limiting access via background checks. “Should they be limited in access for that? For weapons with that capacity — yes. They shouldn’t be in the wrong hands.”
A Pew Research study from 2017 found that republicans and republican leaning independents were more than twice as likely as Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents to say they own a gun. Asked if he believed a benefit could be derived from more democrats learning about firearms, Bengs thought for a moment before seeking to give his opinion.
“Well, exposure to firearms reduces the fear to them, so to the extent that we expose people in a controlled, safe environment to team sports at a school — maybe schools should consider shooting teams as a possibility to expose people in a responsible controlled environment to ‘this is how a weapon works, this is the danger of a weapon, this is what you want to do, this is what you don’t want to do,’ while shooting at targets, would that be successful — I don’t know.”
Bengs expressed that he took hunter safety classes at a young age, and declared a belief that most South Dakotans, are familiar with guns due to the popularity of hunting.
If he were in the Senate, Bengs says he could only do what the structure of the Senate allows, bringing up HR 8, the bill which passed the U.S. House that would mandate background checks for every firearm sale. “I would be voting in favor of that,” he said. “Now John Thune’s position as the Republican whip, the minority whip, his job is to prevent votes on that, so if it cannot be voted on, the better for him.
Bengs did not mince words when talking about Thune, who he is likely to face in the general election. “John Thune has failed us. He has failed parents, he has failed children, and he is a weak leader — if we want to call him that. He’s weak.”
Among the charges Bengs leveled at Thune were statements that the incumbent Senator does not think for himself, instead towing the party line and taking direction from GOP Senate leader Mitch McConnell and the NRA.
Asked why South Dakotans should choose him in the election, Bengs again contrasted himself with Thune. “John Thune is, to the extent that you want to call him a leader, he is a weak leader. He does what he’s told, and he’s very good at following orders, and you’ll see that he sticks to the game plans — I want to do what South Dakotans need to have done.”
In terms of how he wants to be perceived, Bengs said this.
“I am not a career politician. I do not want to be a career politician. I have taken a term limit pledge that I would serve no more than two terms in the U.S. Senate, because I believe turnover and having new voices come in is a good thing. It’s a good thing for democracy. I am very opposed to the corruption of money. It is a foul corrupter of the democratic process, and I believe that South Dakotans and Americans deserve a democracy that works for them.”