A look at the GOP's 2012 Presidential field from a gun rights perspective

by Chad D. Baus

In 2008, there was much discussion about gun rights during the Republican Presidential primaries. Although there were a number of Republican candidates who had a strong pro-Second Amendment record, the party eventually settled on a candidate with an extremely spotty record on the Second Amendment (as well as other issues important to the conservative base).

The end result was that very little excitement could be found among the grassroots gun rights movement, which had been credited just two elections before of having tipped the vote in favor of then-Texas Governor George W. Bush (R) over then-Vice President Albert Gore Jr. (D). (In 2000, gun owners made up 38 percent of the total vote in New Mexico, 33 percent of the total in Florida and 27 percent of the total in Ohio)

Coupled with a media willing to cover for the extreme anti-gun record of the Democrats' candidate, Barack Obama, and a faux pro-gun group which had been set up by Democrats to provide cover (and which has since been dismantled), the stage was set for the election of the most anti-gun President in history.

Three years later, the Republican party is again faced with the prospect of choosing a candidate they believe can beat Obama at the ballot box. Unlike his last campaign, Obama's record of opposition to the Second Amendment rights of Americans can no longer be concealed. Since he was elected, Obama nominated proven gun ban extremists to his cabinent, attempted to stop the Department of Defense from selling once-fired military brass to reloaders, voiced support for a South American treaty as an end run around the Constitution, appointed two anti-gun Supreme Court Justices, blocked the import of highly collectible, historical military surplus firearms and slated them for destruction, and in a secret, closed door meeting with one of the nation's leading gun ban groups promised that he is working on even more gun control efforts "under the radar." More recently still, Obama's ATF has been exposed for having allowed the sale of as many as 2500 guns to Mexican drug cartels, which have since been used in multiple murders, as part of the now infamous "Fast and Furious" scandal.

If ever there was a time for Republicans to take advantage of a motivated grassroots pro-gun voting block, it is now. But will the party choose wisely, or will they once again neuter the pro-gun vote?

To keep this exercise somewhat reasonable, I have confined my list to candidates that are in the top ten in the RealClearPolitics.com polling averages (UPDATED as of 9/06).

Pro-Second Amendment Choices

Rick Perry, Governor of Texas - (29% RCP Average - 1st Place, 11.7% above 2nd)

Rick Perry is without question one of the most pro-gun candidates in the 2012 Republican primary. "We Texans like our guns," Perry writes in his book, Fed Up!, "We don't like meddlesome statists who want to infringe on our right to keep and bear them." Recently, Perry signed several pro-gun bills into law, including Senate Bill 321. The bill prohibits employers from enacting and enforcing bans on employees transporting and storing firearms in their locked, private motor vehicles while parked at work.

But Perry doesn't just talk the right way and support the right legisliation, he lives his support for the Second Amendment. Perry regularly carries a concealed handgun, and used the firearm to defend himself and the family pet from a coyote attack in 2010. His strong support for gun rights has even prompted the media to examine the question of whether or not he could legally carry a concealed handgun as President in anti-gun Washington D.C..

Sarah Palin, Former Governor of Alaska, Former Vice Presidential Candidate (10.6% RCP Average - 3rd Place)

Palin is still an undeclared candidate, but continues to poll strongly without any form of campaign machinery in place. Like Perry, Palin lives her support for the Second Amendment each and every day. Unlike Mitt Romney (see below), who only decided to join the NRA when it was time to run for President in 2008, Palin is a life-long NRA member. Palin's strong record of support for the Second Amendment, which is well-documented, helped her Presidential running-mate, John McCain, improve his image somewhat among gun owners in 2008. In the end, however, it proved not to be enough.

Michele Bachmann, U.S. Representative from Minnesota (8.3% RCP Average - tied for 4th Place)

While serving in the Minnesota State Senate, Bachmann supported and helped pass the Minnesota Personal Protection Act and legislation to protect local shooting ranges. As a member of Congress, she has supported the National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act, as well as the D.C. Personal Protection Act, which sought to repeal a ban on firearms in our nation's capital.

Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, told attendees at the 2011 NRA Annual Meetings that Bachmann is "relentless, tough and a tremendous supporter of the right to keep and bear arms. When she was 12, she passed her first gun safety glass and started a lifetime of shooting. And she's still shooting — shooting down bad legislation and anti-freedom policies."

Ron Paul, U.S. Representative from Texas (8.3% RCP Average - tied for 4th Place)

As a member of Congress, Paul has sponsored a bill designed to prevent United Nations taxation on firearms (Right to Keep and Bear Arms Act), co-sponsored the Fairness in Firearm Testing Act, which would require the ATF to record video of every fiream test it conducts, and the D.C. Personal Protection Act, which sought to repeal a ban on firearms in our nation's capital. He has also supported the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which prohibiting baseless lawsuits against gun manufacturers, and numerous other pro-gun bills.

Newt Gingrich, Former Speaker of the House (4.6% RCP Average - 7th Place)

In 1995, Gingrich stated that "As long as I am Speaker of this House, no gun control legislation is going to move in committee or on the floor of this House and there will be no further erosion of their rights."

Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, told attendees at the 2011 NRA Annual Meetings that Gingrich is a "strong supporter of the Second Amendment" in his introduction, and noted that he's a past recipient of the group's Defender of Freedom Award.

Rick Santorum, Former U.S. Senator from Pennsylvania (2.7% RCP Average - 9th place)

As a U.S Senator, Santorum voted in favor of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which prohibiting baseless lawsuits against gun manufacturers, and opposed mandating background checks between private individuals at gun shows.

At the 2001 NRA Annual Meetings, Chris Cox, the executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, said Santorum – an NRA life member – was "an important ally of gun owners throughout his political career." During his 16 years in Congress, Cox said Santorum opposed gun and magazine bans and voted to end lawsuits against gun makers.

Questionable Choices

Herman Cain, Businessman (4.4% RCP Average, 8th Place)

Herman Cain, the former CEO of Godfather's Pizza, is the only candidate among the top ten who has not held public office. As such, we have no record, but only words, by which to judge his stance on the Second Amendment. And to that end, his words thus far give pause for concern.

On June 7, 2011, in a CNN interview with Wolf Blitzer, Cain was asked "Should states or local government be allowed to control guns, the gun situation, or should..." Cain responded "The answer is yes, that should be a state's decision."

Cain's position, of course, is entirely incorrect. In McDonald v. Chicago, the Supreme Court ruled that the Second Amendment, and its protections as had recently been defined in District of Columbia v. Heller, applied to the states through the Due Process Clause of the 14th Amendment.

Jon Huntsman, Former Ambassador to China, Former Governor of Utah (1.3% RCP Average - 10th Place)

As if being President Obama's choice to represent the administration in China isn't cause enough for concern, Huntsman got off to a shaky start in his campaign when it comes to the gun rights issue. Asked by radio host Hugh Hewitt in June if he would veto an assault weapons ban, Huntsman said "I would not veto an assault weapons ban." He later sent an email to Hewitt saying he misunderstood the question.

Close ties to Obama and a political gaffe aside, however, it bears noting that Huntsman did sign some pro-gun legislation while governor, including a bill allowing Utah residents to store firearms in their privately-owned locked motor vehicle while parked in publicly accessible parking lots controlled by their employer or a businesses they frequent.

Anti-Gun Choices

Mitt Romney, Former Governor of Massachusetts (17.3% RCP Average - 2nd Place, 11.7% behind first)

Romney has a record of being anti-gun. He supported the Clinton Gun Ban in 1994, telling the Boston Herald "that's not going to make me the hero of the NRA. I don't line up with a lot of special interest groups." As governor of Massachusetts in 2002, he signed into law what was described as "one of the toughest assault weapons laws in the country."

He ran for the Republican nomination for President in 2008, and his attempt at an election year conversion failed to gain the confidence of pro-gun voters. After telling a reporter he had been a hunter "pretty much all my life," it was soon revealed that he had in fact only been hunting twice, ever, and had only joined the NRA in the run-up to his campaign. He refused to address, let alone renounce, his former anti-gun positions.

After folding his 2008 campaign earlier than he had to, and with many analysists correctly speculated that he would back in four years, I published a comprehensive list of things he could do before 2012 to prove his conversion was genuine. He hasn't lifted a finger since that time toward reaching out to gun owners. And as I wrote in that 2008 article, "If Romney waits until 2011 to speak out again on gun rights, we'll be right back to where we were in this recent primary season – looking at a candidate whose actions in office were largely anti-gun, and who has nothing but words to offer pro-gun voters in an election year."

Rudy Giuliani, Former Mayor of New York City (7.3% RCP Average - 6th Place)

While the status of his 2012 presidential bid is still unknown, Giuliani's anti-gun record is clear as a bell. In the 1990's, Giuliani's support for the so-called "assault" weapons ban won him the admiration of then-President Bill Clinton, who sent him an autographed picture of the pair sitting in the White House. (While discussing the issue on PBS in 1995, he called the NRA "extremists.")

In 2000, as Mayor of New York, Giuliani filed a lawsuit aimed at putting the nation's gun manufacturers out of business. After it was filed, Giuliani wrote that "this is an industry which profits from the suffering of innocent people. The lawsuit is intended to end the free pass that the gun industry has enjoyed for a very long time, which has resulted in too many avoidable deaths."

Also in 2000, Giuliani told The Boston Globe that "Anyone wanting to own a gun should have to pass a written exam that shows that they know how to use a gun, that they're intelligent enough and responsible enough to handle a gun. Should both handgun and rifle owners be licensed...we’re talking about all dangerous weapons."

Like Romney, Giulinani made an attempt at an election year conversion during the 2008 primary season. When he failed, Giuliani switched to saying that his personal views didn't matter because "the Constitution decides." This "settled law" tactic was echoed just a few years later with greater success by President Obama's two anti-gun Supreme Court nominees.

Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.

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