With Mitt Romney wrapping up the Republican nomination for president and the tumultuous primary season slogging to a whimpering but grateful end, American gun owners finally know who their voting alternative to Barack Obama will be come November. And while Romney hasn't always been regarded as the best friend of gun ownership in this country, as evidenced by some of his choices early in his political career, it seems he and the NRA will go all in on mutual support, as evidenced by his rousing welcome at the association's annual meetings in April.
Even as Romney spoke in St. Louis as the clear Republican frontrunner, not every gun owner was convinced he'd make the best choice when compared to the lingering field of candidates at the time.
Many still recall Romney's voiced support of the Brady Bill, waiting periods for handgun purchases and President Bill Clinton's crime bill during a Senate run in Massachusetts in 1994, as well as his extension of a state "assault weapons ban" (AWB) and implementation of higher gun licensing fees as governor of Massachusetts between 2003 and 2007.
In typical political fashion, however, even the state AWB law extension wasn't a clear black and white issue. Despite extending a law few gun owners on the surface would find positive, the provisions of the bill were shaped in part by the input of pro-gun forces such as the NRA and the Gun Owners Action League.
As a result, it ultimately gained their support. The bill included provisions that benefited Massachusetts gun owners, including extending the term of the state's firearms licenses from four to six years, establishing a Firearm License Review Board to review and in some cases restore firearms ownership rights to individuals who had them previously denied, and removed as many as 700 listed firearms from the state AWB that had not been included in the federal ban. The law also reinstated a 90-day grace period for citizens attempting to renew their firearm license in the event the state agency in charge of approving those licenses took too long, ensuring gun owners couldn't be charged for illegally possessing a firearm or ammunition because their card had expired.
While some gun owners still question Romney's sincerity when he stands up as a champion of their rights, the devil in the details of the candidate's record on the issue lend enough credence to his claims that he is, and has, largely been a supporter of hunters and shooters -- even if some of his statements regarding his own hunting past have been found to border on the inaccurate.
Romney famously told reporters during his failed presidential bid in 2007, "I'm not a big game hunter. I've made it very clear: I've always been, if you will, a rodent and rabbit hunter. All right? Small varmints, if you will." The language of his statement revealed that while Romney may have possibly spent some days with his shoulder to the gun, an avid sportsman he was not. The media at the time confirmed he had really been hunting only a few times and had not purchased a hunting license in any of the four states where he owned homes at the time.
To ardent gun supporters however, that is all moot. The Second Amendment, after all, isn't about hunting, and Romney's characterization of modern sporting rifles as "deadly assault weapons (that) have no place in Massachusetts," and saying the rifles "are not made for recreation or self-defense," during the AWB extension signing in 2004 will undoubtedly live on in some pro-gun voter's minds.
Down to Romney and Obama
Despite the lingering concerns, with the race now down to Mitt Romney or President Barak Obama, the question for gun owners is clear: Who will be the better pro-gun president? The answer is a no-brainer, especially if you agree with concerns shared by a growing number of shooters and recently voiced by NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre.
"What else would a second term for Obama mean for you and me?" LaPierre recently wrote in America's 1st Freedom, an NRA-published magazine. "€¦ It would mean a White House freed from the control of American voters, and a president free to prosecute his war on the Right to Keep and Bear Arms with impunity."
LaPierre cited the Justice Department's botched involvement in "Fast and Furious," a government-sponsored gun running operation in which firearms were provided to smugglers in order to trace them to Mexican cartels and allegedly prove administration claims that a majority of guns being used by drug runners come from the United States. A number of those guns were found to have been used in crimes on both sides of the border, including the murder of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry in December 2010. The NRA chief also cited Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's work on and support of United Nation's efforts to pass an international gun ban treaty that could serve to circumvent our own constitution.
When President Obama was elected in 2008, his victory spawned a rush of buyers to our nation's gun shops, all of them fearing that new gun laws were on the way that would tighten or even outlaw ownership of many models, particularly tactical rifles such as ARs. Many of those fears, fortunately, have not yet come to pass.
With a persistently languishing economy, continued war and a politically bizarre push for nationalized healthcare, Obama has had his hands full with more pressing matters. His advisers no doubt remember that it was the NRA and its supporters who were credited with snuffing Al Gore's presidential bid in 2000 and installing a Republican-majority to Congress in 1994. Anger the nation's gun owners and in an election that is too close to call, and Obama could be looking for a job come the end of this year. Avoid them and lull them into complacency, and he might squeak by. That's the line of thought LaPierre is convinced Obama strategists are following.
"All that first term lip service to gun owners is just part of a massive Obama conspiracy to deceive voters and hide his true intentions to destroy the Second Amendment during his second term," LaPierre told a crowd during the Conservative Political Action Conference, the Washington Times reported.
The run on gun shops in 2008 and resulting firearms shortages could look like a mere blip compared to the one that will ensue given the real threat a second-term Obama poses.
Life Under Romney
Whether you believe Romney is a true champion of the Second Amendment or feel he's saying what he must to get elected, odds are if the NRA helps him win, his gratitude will be such that he won't do anything to upset that support throughout his term. That means it is doubtful we will see a return to any "assault weapons" bans or other federal legislation that will infringe upon gun rights. Without question, where gun rights are concerned, Romney is the hands down choice.
Despite high-profile cases such as the Trayvon Martin shooting, there appears to be diminishing public support for restrictive gun laws, as well. A recent Reuters/Ipsos poll found 75 percent of respondents support right-to-carry laws, a Pew Research survey found the number of Americans who believe the right to own a gun is more important than gun control rose from 34 percent in 1993 to 48 percent in 2011, and Gallup revealed citizens wanting to ban handguns dropped from 60 percent in 2000 to just 26 percent today.
With the economy at the top of every American's mind and little cry for restrictive gun measures, you can bet Romney will be focused on approving measures that stimulate jobs, not restrict our freedoms. And that can only be good news for all Americans, not just gun owners.
For more on Mitt Romney and other candidates' stances on shooting, hunting, fishing and conservation, check out Sportsmen Vote.