Leading GOP candidates causing angst among 2nd Amendment organizations
Leading GOP candidates causing angst among 2nd
By Sam Youngman
April 17, 2007
Anti-gun control groups, sure to be back on the
defensive after yesterdays massacre at Virginia Tech,
say they are having a hard time solidly backing any of
the top-tier Republican presidential candidates.
The only 2008 presidential candidates who have earned
solid backing from anti-gun control groups are a
handful of Republicans struggling to get their
campaigns off the ground and one Democrat.
The first tier of Republican candidates, Sen. John
McCain (Ariz.), former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney
and former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani, all have been
inconsistent on the issues near and dear to gun
owners hearts, activists said.
Only Republican Reps. Ron Paul (Texas), Duncan Hunter
(Calif.) and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, as
well as Democratic Gov. Bill Richardson (N.M.), have
not been faulted by such groups.
I think theres a lot of disappointment out there,
said Erich Pratt, an official with Gun Owners of
America (GOA). Theres a lot of angst.
Pratt said his group is stingy with its endorsements.
The last presidential candidate they backed was Ronald
Reagan, and given the current leaders of the field,
they might not endorse this time, either.
The group will be busy trying to educate its
300,000-plus members as to what it sees as the
candidates shortcomings, Pratt said.
National Rifle Association (NRA) officials declined to
talk on the record about specific candidates, but one
official said the group has been courted by
candidates on both sides of the aisle.
The official said the groups more than 4 million
members are a much sought-after voting bloc.
Theyre loyal, theyre savvy and they vote, the
That bloc is particularly important to Republicans in
the early-voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire and
South Carolina. But activists with those groups say
each leading candidate has his flaws.
Romneys missteps on the issue have been well
documented of late.
After claiming to be a lifelong NRA member, he
admitted to having joined only last summer.
The former governor had a similar gaffe recently when
he told a voter in New Hampshire he had been hunting
his whole life before campaign aides conceded he had
actually only been twice.
The campaign did say, however, the governor had been
hunting rabbits and squirrels for years.
These and other oops moments, combined with Romneys
support of the Brady Bill and an assault-weapons ban
during his 1994 Senate campaign, have led Pratt and
others to question Romneys sincerity on the issue.
Hes a big question mark, Pratt said. He [has] been
acting and speaking like someone from New England, and
now all of a sudden hes singing a different tune.
For his part, Romney has told audiences he intends to
seek the NRAs endorsement. The Democratic National
Committee (DNC) was quick to seize on Romneys
While Romney has told audiences that he is after the
NRAs endorsement, he dodged the NRA convention in
St. Louis [last week] despite being in town at the
same time for a fundraiser, a DNC release said.
In response, Romney spokesman Kevin Madden said in an
e-mail that Romney is a strong backer of the Second
Gov. Romney strongly believes in the constitutional
freedoms and protections that are enshrined in the
Second Amendment, Madden said. Groups that are
dedicated to protecting Second Amendment rights
understand Gov. Romneys commitment to preserving them
and recognize his outreach on these issues.
When asked whether the campaign had suffered missteps
in trying to promote its Second Amendment support,
Madden said, The important principles involved in any
discussion of the Second Amendment can sometimes be
cast aside in the coverage of it.
Madden added: Gov. Romneys commitment to good policy
on these issues is readily apparent to those who are
about the issue. Thats what is most important to
remember and take notice of.
Giuliani faces similar scrutiny and mistrust from
Second Amendment groups.
While in office, the former mayor supported a number
of gun-control plans, officially aimed at reducing New
Yorks high crime rate.
Rudy Giuliani is a strong supporter of the Second
Amendment, his campaign website says. When he was
Mayor of a city suffering an average of almost 2,000
murders a year, he protected people by getting illegal
handguns out of the hands of criminals. As a result,
shootings fell by 72 percent, and the murder rate was
cut by two-thirds.
But the website also states, Rudy understands that
what works in New York doesnt necessarily work in
Mississippi or Montana.
The Giuliani campaign did not respond to a request for
Meanwhile, McCains troubles with Second Amendment
groups stem from his authorship of the Bipartisan
Campaign Finance Reform Act of 2002, also known as
A wide range of conservative national lobbying groups,
among them the NRA, were infuriated by what they said
was a restriction on free speech.
That fury has endured, and McCain still has enemies in
the NRA and other gun-rights groups despite his
consistently conservative voting record on gun owners
Former Rep. Chuck Douglas (R-N.H.), an NRA member and
vice chairman of McCains steering committee, said
that while national lobbying groups like the NRA are
still angry about McCain-Feingold, individual gun
owners will recognize an ally in McCain because of his
Thats the one issue where the NRA as an institution
has a beef with him, Douglas said.
Douglas said McCain was the first candidate to
campaign in a New Hampshire gun store. Last weekend,
the campaign had workers present at a gun show in
When it comes down to it, voters across the country
realize that John McCain has worked to protect their
right to bear arms, McCain spokesman Danny Diaz said.
He added: Sen. McCain has a lifetime record of
standing up for gun rights and gun owners, and they
know that he is an advocate on their behalf.
When asked about any lingering resentment groups like
the NRA might harbor over McCain-Feingold, Diaz said,
Today, as a result of the most recent election, more
people recognize the negative impact special interest
money has in politics and Sen. McCains efforts to
fight it. Sen. McCain is taking his message directly
to the people.
The campaign, in a not-so-thinly veiled shot at Team
Romney, last week introduced their coalition of New
Hampshire sportsmen supporting McCain.
There is also the case of Richardson. As the only
Democratic candidate to win an A grade from the NRA
during his last gubernatorial race, his candidacy
might force the group to reexamine its endorsement
habits should he win the nomination and face off
against one of the less popular Republicans.
If Bill Richardson ran against Giuliani, that would
be something people would have to look at, Douglas said.