LITTLE ROCK — Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson and Democratic candidate Mike Ross tangled Tuesday over their past statements on gun control and Hutchinson’s connections to overseas companies.

LITTLE ROCK — Republican gubernatorial candidate Asa Hutchinson and Democratic candidate Mike Ross tangled Tuesday over their past statements on gun control and Hutchinson’s connections to overseas companies.


At a news conference in Little Rock, Hutchinson appeared with former National Rifle Association President David Keene, who said the NRA has not endorsed any candidate for Arkansas governor because both voted consistently with the NRA in Congress — though he said he personally is endorsing Hutchinson.


Keene said that after the Dec. 14, 2012, Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre in Newton, Conn., Hutchinson agreed to lead a task force on school safety for the NRA, whereas Ross told Stephens Media five days after the mass shooting, "This is not the same America that I grew up in, and I think it is time to address whether there really is a legitimate need for high-capacity weapons that can shoot, you know, a lot of rounds of ammunition."


Keene told reporters, "Asa’s opponent when he was in Congress always voted in favor of Second Amendment rights, but when tragedy hit and when he was retiring from Congress and the (Obama) administration called, he headed for the tall grass."


Ross said in a statement Tuesday, "Congressman Hutchinson is desperately trying to mislead voters, but the facts are that the NRA closely examined both candidates’ records, public statements and positions on the issues and gave both candidates the exact same A rating and chose not to endorse either candidate in this race for governor."


An NRA spokeswoman did not immediately return a call Tuesday seeking comment.


Ross said that what incidents like Sandy Hook demonstrate "is that we have a mental health problem in this country, and we must immediately and comprehensively address this problem and get people the help they need. I have consistently and aggressively opposed any type of gun ban, and will continue to do so as governor."


He added that it was "ironic and hypocritical" for Hutchinson to attack him on the Second Amendment after having expressed support for expanded background checks in a CNN interview last year.


Hutchinson said in that interview, "Absolutely I’m open to expanding background checks if you can do it in a way that does not infringe upon an individual and make it hard for an individual to transfer to a friend or a neighbor, somebody that … has a casual sale."


Hutchinson spokesman J.R. Davis pointed out Tuesday that Hutchinson said in the interview he was only talking about reforms that would not infringe on Americans’ rights. Davis said when President Barack Obama later proposed expanded background checks, "Asa stood in firm opposition to them."


Also Tuesday, Ross’ campaign issued a statement criticizing Hutchinson for serving on the boards of Pinkerton Government Services, a U.S. security company owned by Sweden-based Securitas AB; Paragon Systems, an American security company owned by Pinkerton Government Services; and Intergraph Government Solutions, an American security company owned by Sweden-based Hexagon AB.


The Ross campaign said the companies have received more that $750 million in homeland security contracts in the U.S. It quoted Ross’ question to Hutchinson during a debate Monday in Jonesboro: "Why did you believe these foreign companies were a better choice to handle our security than American companies and why were they a better choice to supply our military than American companies?"


Hutchinson said Tuesday the criticism was "totally weird."


"Under U.S. law, when a foreign company acquires a U.S. company that’s engaged in security business … the American company has to have a board of directors of U.S. citizens. This is under the Defense Department laws," he said. "The whole key is to avoid foreign control over a U.S. company."


Also running for governor are Green Party candidate Joshua Drake and Libertarian Frank Gilbert. Term limits prohibit Gov. Mike Beebe from seeking a third term.


Early voting began Monday for the Nov. 4 election.