Repub­li­can can­di­dates vy­ing to court gun lobby

Party aims to avoid McCain, Rom­ney tepid­ness on firearms

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY DAVID SHERFINSKI

On the same day as what could be a make-or-break GOP pres­i­den­tial de­bate, Sen. Rand Paul is also ap­par­ently plan­ning to lit­er­ally shoot the tax code for tar­get prac­tice af­ter tak­ing a chain­saw and a wood chip­per to the code in an ad ear­lier this year.

Asked if he was plan­ning to do any spe­cial prepa­ra­tion for the de­bate in Cal­i­for­nia, the Ken­tucky Repub­li­can joked on CNN Tues­day that he typ­i­cally will stand on his head for about two hours be­fore­hand to get some blood rush­ing to his brain.

“That’s a joke. That’s a joke,” Mr. Paul said. “Ac­tu­ally, I will be out shoot­ing tar­get prac­tice in the morn­ing. I’ll be shoot­ing the tax code with some friends to­mor­row morn­ing, and that will be my prepa­ra­tion.”

In­deed, Mr. Paul’s cam­paign con­firmed they are hav­ing a pri­vate event Wed­nes­day at a lo­cal gun range — the tim­ing of which un­der­scores just how im­por­tant the gun is­sue is for GOP pri­mary vot­ers, who have an ar­ray of pro-Sec­ond Amend­ment can­di­dates like Mr. Paul to choose from this cy­cle.

The 2016 GOP field is among the most staunchly pro-gun of any in re­cent po­lit­i­cal history, but there are still di­vi­sions among the hope­fuls, an­a­lysts and gun rights ad­vo­cates say.

The ma­jor can­di­dates range from those who see firearms as fun­da­men­tally con­nected to free­dom, to those who pro­mote guns as crit­i­cal for self-pro­tec­tion, to those who have only re­cently evolved into Sec­ond Amend­ment de­fend­ers, said John R. Lott, Jr., pres­i­dent of the Crime Preven­tion Re­search Cen­ter.

The ma­jor can­di­dates range from those who see firearms as [JUMP]fun­da­men­tally con­nected to free­dom, to those who pro­mote guns as crit­i­cal for self-pro­tec­tion, to those who have only re­cently evolved into Sec­ond Amend­ment de­fend­ers, said John R. Lott, Jr., pres­i­dent of the Crime Preven­tion Re­search Cen­ter.

Gun Own­ers of Amer­ica, a vo­cal group that some­times treads where the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion does not, has al­ready picked its cham­pion in the field, en­dors­ing Sen. Ted Cruz last week.

“Our con­cern is that we get some­body that’s re­ally go­ing to stir up the base and avoid the huge mis­takes that McCain and Rom­ney made, which was to be bor­ing and afraid of the very is­sues that the base was in­ter­ested in hear­ing,” said Larry Pratt, ex­ec­u­tive di­rec­tor of the group.

Avoid­ing a re­peat of 2008 and 2012 is high on the minds of gun rights sup­port­ers, who say they’re happy most of the can­di­dates in this year’s GOP field proudly tout their pro-gun bona fides on the cam­paign trail.

“Rom­ney had been in fa­vor of — let’s use his word, ‘se­vere’ — gun con­trol up in Mas­sachusetts,” Mr. Pratt said. “McCain was a guy that wanted to keep us from be­ing able to ar­tic­u­late our po­si­tions in a po­lit­i­cal cam­paign, par­tic­u­larly up close to the elec­tion.”

Mr. Lott said the lack of a force­ful pro­gun can­di­date stretches back to Pres­i­dent Ge­orge W. Bush’s 2004 re­elec­tion, when he shied away from the is­sue.

Mr. Lott said this time around there are a host of gun cham­pi­ons who go be­yond merely say­ing they fa­vor the Sec­ond Amend­ment, and ar­tic­u­late ex­pan­sively on why they be­lieve their pro-gun poli­cies are good for the coun­try.

He men­tioned for­mer Hewlett-Packard CEO Carly Fio­r­ina, Sen. Marco Ru­bio of Florida, re­tired neu­ro­sur­geon Ben Car­son and Mr. Cruz as stand­outs.

“They’re all strong in terms of kind of the bot­tom line, but I think peo­ple like Fio­r­ina, Ru­bio, Cruz [and] Car­son seem to stand out in terms of them hav­ing a broader un­der­stand­ing of why it’s im­por­tant for peo­ple to be able to de­fend them­selves,” he said.

Mr. Lott men­tioned Wis­con­sin Gov. Scott Walker, for­mer Florida Gov. Jeb Bush and Mr. Paul as ex­am­ples of can­di­dates who have ac­tively worked to put pro-gun poli­cies into place through their of­fi­cial po­si­tions, and said Ohio Gov. John Ka­sich and busi­ness­man Don­ald Trump are ex­am­ples of can­di­dates whose Sec­ond Amend­ment views have shifted over the years.

Ear­lier in the sum­mer, Mr. Walker signed into law a mea­sure le­gal­iz­ing con­cealed carry in his home state. Mr. Bush, for his part, signed into law a “stand your ground” bill on self-de­fense when he was gover­nor of Florida, and Mr. Paul has pushed to al­low firearms to be car­ried on Post Of­fice grounds.

Mr. Ka­sich is back in good stand­ing with the Na­tional Ri­fle As­so­ci­a­tion, though his fa­vor with the group plum­meted af­ter he voted for the 1994 as­sault weapons ban while in Congress.

“I’ve come to learn that you can pass all the laws you want, but if they don’t work, there’s no rea­son to pass them if it doesn’t have an im­pact, if it doesn’t have an ef­fect,” Mr. Ka­sich said ear­lier this year, ac­cord­ing to The Colum­bus Dis­patch. “Over time you come to re­ally be­gin to un­der­stand peo­ple’s deep, deep, deep com­mit­ment to the Sec­ond Amend­ment, and I share that.”

Mr. Trump, mean­while, wrote in his 2000 book “The Amer­ica We De­serve” that while he gen­er­ally op­poses gun con­trol, he sup­ported a ban on so-called as­sault weapons and a slightly longer wait­ing pe­riod for a gun.

But he said last month on MSNBC, in the wake of the Vir­ginia shoot­ings: “I don’t think you need fur­ther gun re­stric­tions — they have re­stric­tions.”

He pointed to crime rates in cities like Chicago and Bal­ti­more, which have strict gun con­trols, as ev­i­dence the laws don’t work.

“You look at these places that are go­ing wild with killings all over, and they have very, very pow­er­ful gun laws — laws that you would say, I mean, you should not have any killings what­so­ever if they worked. The fact is it’s not the laws,” he said.

Mr. Lott said there’s noth­ing nec­es­sar­ily wrong with peo­ple chang­ing their views, but “it raises the is­sue, are they just chang­ing it be­cause it’s po­lit­i­cally ex­pe­di­ent now for them to do so, or is it [a] fun­da­men­tal un­der­stand­ing of the is­sues?”

For his part, Mr. Pratt said he views New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie as fall­ing into the lower tier of pro-gun can­di­dates.

Mr. Christie was given a “C” rat­ing by the NRA in 2013.

Dur­ing a re­cent ap­pear­ance on Fox News, Mr. Christie blamed his Demo­cratic pre­de­ces­sors and “lib­eral leg­is­la­tors” for New Jersey’s com­par­a­tively strict gun laws.

“I think rea­son­able back­ground checks are fine, but the fact is … we’re tak­ing our eye off the ball,” Mr. Christie said. “The peo­ple who are com­mit­ting crimes in this coun­try and caus­ing vi­o­lence are crim­i­nals with guns, and that’s what we need to fo­cus on.”

Gun rights have his­tor­i­cally pre­sented less po­lit­i­cal peril for Repub­li­cans than for Democrats, at least in na­tional gen­eral elec­tions. Many an­a­lysts at­tribute for­mer Vice Pres­i­dent Al Gore’s de­feat in 2000, at least in part, to his sup­port for gun con­trol.

Gun con­trol ad­vo­cates, how­ever, say they be­lieve they can ad­vance their is­sues in the 2016 elec­tion, say­ing a se­ries of mass shoot­ings has re­newed in­ter­est.

Ad­vo­cates and law­mak­ers held an event on Capi­tol Hill ear­lier this month af­ter the re­cent shoot­ing deaths of a re­porter and videog­ra­pher on live tele­vi­sion in Vir­ginia. And for­mer Mary­land Gov. Martin O’Malley, a 2016 Demo­cratic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date, an­nounced a se­ries of gun pro­pos­als this week that in­clude ex­pand­ing back­ground checks to all sales and set­ting a fed­eral min­i­mum age of 21 for hand­gun own­er­ship and pos­ses­sion.

“Gun vi­o­lence isn’t a Repub­li­can or Demo­cratic ques­tion; it is a uniquely Amer­i­can prob­lem that af­fects all of us, re­gard­less of party af­fil­i­a­tion. That’s why it re­quires a na­tional so­lu­tion, and we will de­mand that all pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates take a stand on this is­sue,” said Erika Soto Lamb, a spokes­woman for the group Every­town for Gun Safety.

REUTERS

Don­ald Trump wrote in his 2000 book “The Amer­ica We De­serve” that while he gen­er­ally op­poses gun con­trol, he sup­ported a ban on so-called as­sault weapons and a slightly longer wait­ing pe­riod for a gun. But he said last month on MSNBC, in the wake of the Vir­ginia shoot­ings: “I don’t think you need fur­ther gun re­stric­tions — they have re­stric­tions.”

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