Mitt Romney's relationship with gun owners over the years has been tenuous at best. While campaigning for the U.S. Senate in 1994, he expressed support for five-day waiting periods and other gun control measures. And in 2004, as governor of Massachusetts, he signed an "assault weapons" ban. However, Romney says his views on firearms have changed and, starting with his 2007 presidential campaign, he's sought rebirth as a pro-gun candidate.
Easier said than done. Gun owners are an uncompromising, unforgiving bloc of voters and they tend to have long memories. Indeed, members of Romney's own party, especially Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, actively attacked his gun control past while they campaigned for the 2012 GOP presidential nomination.
Admitting Past Mistakes
Like Romney, Sen. John McCain, R-Ariz., faced a skeptical shooting community during his failed 2008 presidential bid. Despite an NRA endorsement, gun owners remained lukewarm on McCain right up to Election Day. Perhaps that'™s because he never really gave them a strong reason to rally around him. Rather than admitting past mistakes or votes that were unfriendly to gun owners, McCain basically adopted a, 'œHey, we don'™t always have to agree,' campaign. Many shooters didn'™t care for this tepid support, and it didn'™t go far enough toward separating McCain'™s views from those of candidate Obama.
Romney, on the other hand, acknowledges his past mistakes, says he learned that he was wrong about firearms, and insists his views have changed. Will gun owners trust in the sincerity of this message, or will they hold Romney'™s past against him? We'™ll know in two months.
Letting Obama Do the Work for Him
In the eyes of many shooters, Romney has one very key strength: He isn'™t Barack Obama
. Even if Romney says very little about guns, Obama has arguably said and done enough to make Romney the default pro-gun candidate.
Obama'™s supporters argue he'™s done nothing to infringe upon the Second Amendment, and has in fact signed legislation to permit concealed carry in national parks and to allow Amtrak travelers to store firearms in checked luggage.
However, Obama'™s detractors have much to highlight as well. There'™s the 'œFast and Furious' fiasco and the Obama administration'™s attempt to log firearm sales in border states. There'™s Obama\'s appointment of two very anti-gun Supreme Court justices; the many anti-gun staffers in his administration, including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Attorney General Eric Holder and ATF director Andrew Traver; his opposition to concealed carry; his recent call to reinstate Bill Clinton'™s 'œassault weapons' ban and his pronouncement that semi-auto rifles 'œbelong on the battlefields of war, not on the streets of our cities'; and who could forget that hidden mic sound bite regarding those who 'œcling to guns or religion'?
So, while Romney may not have a strong pro-gun record on which to run, he can certainly highlight Obama'™s anti-gun positions or allow others to do so for him. The National Rifle Association, for instance, is essentially campaigning against Obama at this point rather than for Romney.
The Paul Ryan Pick
By selecting Paul Ryan to be his vice presidential candidate, Romney energized many reluctant supporters. Ryan is an avid hunter and shooter
, and he co-sponsored the National Right to Carry Reciprocity Act
. He voted for the Sportsmen'™s Heritage Act
and the District of Columbia Personal Protection Act, and he signed a friend-of-the-court brief expressing support for gun rights in the historic D.C. v. Heller
Supreme Court case.
Even Ryan'™s wife, Janna, is a shooter — 15 years ago she co-founded the Washington Women'™s Shooting Club.
So, while Romney can'™t tout his own pro-gun record, his veep candidate can, which is likely one of the reasons Ryan was selected. By doing so, Romney has ensured that gun owners can vote for his ticket without holding their noses.
Gov. Martinez\'s RNC Gun Quip
Similarly, while Romney can'™t speak of his lifelong love of firearms (he tried that before — it didn'™t work out so well
), he can certainly allow fellow Republicans to do so for him. And when Republicans express appreciation for gun ownership while campaigning for Romney, they no doubt help their candidate earn shooters'™ support.
A notable — and no doubt strategic — example is New Mexico Gov. Susana Martinez'™s speech at last week'™s Republican National Convention.
Martinez proudly revealed that she carried a Smith & Wesson .357 Mag. at age 18 while guarding her church parking lot on bingo nights. The crowd erupted. The author chuckled aloud. And the quip surely didn'™t hurt Romney'™s chances of winning over shooters.
Attracting Your Wife\'s VoteAccording to polling data
, white, male deer hunters support Romney over Obama by a 58-34-percent margin. Their wives? Not by a long shot — in the previous election, women overwhelmingly voted for Obama.
However, according to the Huffington Post'™s Howard Fineman, Romney is actively courting female deer hunters
(and presumably female shooters) and hunters'™/shooters'™ wives. Here'™s Fineman'™s prediction for the Republican National Convention, which arguably rang true:
"The Romney campaign has found that the Mrs. Deer Hunters respond strongly to the idea, hotly denied by the president, that Obama wants to end work requirements for welfare. And many of these Catholic voters are open to the argument that Obama'™s health care reform law is unfairly forcing Catholic hospitals to provide abortion and contraceptive services to their staff."
Fineman'™s argument is largely twofold: Deer hunters'™ wives care about family, the economy and religious issues. Specifically, he seems to believe a lot of hunters are Catholic.
Regardless of the validity of Fineman'™s analysis, Romney has done a fine job attracting the female vote, given the tendency of women to vote left-of-center. According to the latest polls, Obama leads Romney by just 6 points among women; in the 2008 election Obama led McCain among women by 13 points.
A Generic Focus on Freedom
As noted, Romney says his opinions and understanding of gun control have changed, but the fact remains he can'™t change his past record, and he is not a hunter or shooter. Given those unavoidable facts, how can he both woo and make himself relatable to the shooting public?
By speaking in terms of individual freedom and small government, rather than specifically regarding guns. Gun ownership is prevalent across a diverse political spectrum, and there are plenty of social liberals who are also adamantly pro-gun. However, let'™s face it: Shooters are much more likely to be of the libertarian or social conservative ilk. So when Romney speaks out against Obama'™s alleged government growth and intrusions into Americans'™ private lives, he surely hopes it resonates with folks who want the government to stay out of their gun safes.
Is it any coincidence then that Romney'™s speech last April at the NRA Annual Meetings and Exhibits focused"http://www.sportsmenvote.com/mitt-romney-talks-guns-freedom-at-nra-annual-meeting/" target="_blank">touched on gun rights in the latter half of his speech, but his opening remarks centered on the economy, healthcare, lowering taxes and other hot button issues.
If he believes such topics would compel the NRA audience to vote for him, isn'™t it reasonable that he'™s quietly using the same strategy to bring shooters at large into his camp?