Recently discovered report forces the question: Do I owe Mitt Romney an apology?
by Chad D. Baus
I have not been easy on Mitt Romney in the years since he began seeking the presidency.
During the 2008 Republican primary, I viewed Romney much as I did John McCain - a flip-flopper who just couldn't be trusted. In fact, in an op-ed entitled "Will you be Mitt Romney's cheap date?", published at BuckeyeFirearms.org and picked up by World Net Daily (www.wnd.com), I likened Romney to a bar-hopping boyfriend treating pro-gun voters "like some airheaded college girlfriend," ..."expect[ing] that we'll watch as [he] repeatedly grope[s] and fondle[s] waitresses while we're out on a date together, but forgive [him] as soon as [he] say[s] 'I love you baby. Now go get me another beer.'"
Tough? Yes. But it's not as though I made that assessment in a vacuum.
And of course I had the words of Romney himself. When explaining his support for the Clinton Gun Ban in 1994, Romney was quoted by The Boston Herald as saying "that's not going to make me the hero of the NRA. I don't line up with a lot of special interest groups."
And yet, here I am today, pondering the question - "Do I owe Mitt Romney an apology?"
Here is why:
No long ago, I came across a report prepared by the Gun Owners' Action League (GOAL) in February 2007. GOAL is a state-level group defending the gun rights of the citizens of Massachusetts just as Buckeye Firearms Association does here in Ohio. Why this report never came to my attention sooner is beyond me. Whether or not it had come to the attention of other pro-gun writers I don't know. But the facts presented by GOAL fly in the face of what I've always thought I knew about Mitt Romney and the Second Amendment.
Following are a few eye-popping excerpts from the opening remarks of the report, entitled "The Romney Record" - A GOAL Special Report:
- ...in the end, GOAL had more access to this administration than any other since the days of Governor Ed King in 1979.
- ...a very good working relationship was developed that benefited both parties.
- During the Romney Administration, no anti-Second Amendment or anti-sportsmen legislation made its way to the Governor's desk.
- Governor Romney did sign five pro-Second Amendment/pro-sportsmen bills into law.
- His administration also worked with Gun Owners' Action League and the Democratic leadership of the Massachusetts House and Senate to remove any anti-Second Amendment language from the Gang Violence bill passed in 2006.
The comments continue, crediting Romney for modifying the state's law to provide free replacement of firearm licenses to those who had them stolen or lost, keeping requirement that game wardens needed to have some environmental education background not strictly law enforcement, and more.
In fact, according to the report, during his administration, Governor Romney issued a proclamation declaring May 7, 2005 as "The Right to Bear Arms Day," and adds that the proclamation was issued on this date to coincide with GOAL's Annual Banquet.
This is certainly a different impression of Mitt Romney's Second Amendment background than any I've heard before.
Perhaps the most common criticism of Romney in pro-gun circles concerns a bill he signed in 2004. The Associated Press wrote that the bill was "one of the toughest assault weapons laws in the country." In 2008, John Lott wrote that Romney had "signed into law draconian gun legislation while governor of Massachusetts." He was far from the only pro-gun writer repeating that "fact."
And yet, GOAL maintains that "during the Romney Administration, no anti-Second Amendment or anti-sportsmen legislation made its way to the Governor's desk," and specifically singles out this legislation as "the greatest victory for gun owners since the passage of the gun control laws in 1998."
So what are the details GOAL uses to back their position? Again, from the report:
Chapter 150 of the Acts of 2004: An Act Further Regulating Certain Weapons
This is a perfect example of don't believe in titles. The bill was the greatest victory for gun owners since the passage of the gun control laws in 1998 (Chapter 180 of the Acts of 1998). It was a reform bill totally supported by GOAL. Press and media stories around the country got it completely wrong when claimed the bill was an extension of the "assault weapon" ban that had sunset at the federal level. They could not have been more wrong. Unfortunately for the Governor, someone had also wrongly briefed him about the bill. As a result the Lt. Governor and the Governor made statements at the bill signing ceremony that angered GOAL members. The following is what the bill actually did:
1. Established the Firearm License Review Board (FLRB). The 1998 law created new criteria for disqualifying citizens for firearms licenses that included any misdemeanor punishable by more than two years even if no jail time was ever served.
For instance, a first conviction of operating a motor vehicle under the influence would result in the loss of your ability to own a handgun for life and long guns for a minimum of five years. This Board is now able to review cases under limited circumstances to restore licenses to individuals who meet certain criteria.
2. Mandated that a minimum of $50,000 of the licensing fees be used for the operation of the FLRB so that the Board would not cease operating under budget cuts.
3. Extended the term of the state’s firearm licenses from 4 years to 6 years.
4. Permanently attached the federal language concerning assault weapon exemptions in 18 USC 922 Appendix A to the Massachusetts assault weapons laws. This is the part that the media misrepresented.
In 1998 the Massachusetts legislature passed its own assault weapons ban (MGL Chapter 140, Section 131M). This ban did not rely on the federal language and contained no sunset clause. Knowing that we did not have the votes in 2004 to get rid of the state law, we did not want to loose [sic] all of the federal exemptions that were not in the state law so this new bill was amended to include them.
5. Re-instated a 90 day grace period for citizens who were trying to renew their firearm license. Over the past years, the government agencies in charge had fallen months behind in renewing licenses. At one point it was taking upwards of a year to renew a license. Under Massachusetts law, a citizen cannot have a firearm or ammunition in their home with an expired license.
6. Mandated that law enforcement must issue a receipt for firearms that are confiscated due to an expired license. Prior to this law, no receipts were given for property confiscated which led to accusations of stolen or lost firearms after they were confiscated by police.
7. Gave free license renewal for law enforcement officers who applied through their employing agency.
8. Changed the size and style of a firearm license to that of a driver’s license so that it would fit in a normal wallet. The original license was 3" x 4".
9. Created stiffer penalties for armed home invaders.
The report goes on to cite other bills which affected gun owners in Massachusetts during Romney's administration, and explains how Romney's position matched GOAL's, or how Romney's administration worked to remove anti-gun provisions from proposed legislation, etc.
In short, the report confirms what Mitt Romney has repeatedly said on the campaign trail and in town hall meetings - that the bill he signed in 2004 had the full support of the NRA's state affiliate, GOAL, and that they and other pro-gun lobbyists asked him to sign it.
So where does this leave us? That Romney approved of the 1994 Clinton Gun Ban has not been disputed. But he isn't the only politician to have once held the mistaken belief that it might work to curb crime. President George W. Bush stated he'd have signed a renewal if the failed bill made it to his desk, and Ohio's own John Kasich supported the ban as well, and has since admitted he was "wrong." Romney too appears to have learned that such bans don't work to curb crime.
Separate from his support for the gun ban passed by Congress nearly 20 years ago (and allowed to sunset after a decade of failure), a position he no longer takes, it appears that the central "fact" that most gun owners "know" about Mitt Romney - namely that he signed an new assault weapons ban in Massachusetts in 2004 - isn't a fact at all.
My sense is that knowledge of the GOAL report may allow some pro-gun voters, who may have been hesitant to go "All In," to feel much better about voting for the only man who stands a chance at defeating Barack Obama.
Mr Romney, for whatever it's worth, I apologize.
Chad D. Baus is the Buckeye Firearms Association Vice Chairman.