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By Jeff & Chris Knox

With the announcement of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., as Mitt Romney’s pick for vice president, the first question among GunVoters was where Ryan stands on gun issues.

The fact that Ryan is an active hunter, with bow and firearms, is promising, but not definitive. There are plenty of examples of hunters who hold elitist attitudes about firearms. One need look no further than past Democrat presidential nominee John Kerry’s idiotic attempts at gaining GunVoter support by staging a photo-op goose hunt – in spite of his long record supporting restrictive gun laws in Congress. But Ryan isn’t one of those. Ryan’s hunting credentials are significant and bona fide, and there is no hint of prejudice against average Joe gun owners or modern sporting rifles – mislabeled as “assault weapons.” His voting record is also solid with votes supporting the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act protecting firearms manufacturers and sellers from being sued when a criminal misuses their products, and bills that would make concealed carry permits good nationwide.

While Ryan has been friendly toward the Second Amendment, he has not been a leader in the rights movement, though, and his record is not perfect. Some in the rights community have pointed to a 1999 vote in which Ryan favored requiring background checks for all purchasers at gun shows – even transactions between private parties – the so-called “gun show loophole.”  While it’s disappointing that Ryan voted for that bill, critics need to recognize that this was a “scored vote” by NRA, and their position was in favor of the bill. In fact, NRA had an official position of supporting background checks on all sales at gun shows – provided the checks were completed within 24 hours – up until a few years ago when The Firearms Coalition exposed its position and it shifted policy back to a principled stand against requiring background checks on private transactions.

Rejecting Ryan for that single, NRA-endorsed vote would be a huge mistake. The fact is, Ryan has the best record and the best philosophy toward guns of any presidential or vice presidential candidate since John F. Kennedy – an NRA life member before gun control became a major political issue, and before NRA became a political powerhouse. Even avid hunter Dick Cheney got wishy-washy on the issue of “assault weapons,” while George W. Bush ducked the issue, proclaiming that he would sign a renewal of the Clinton Assault Weapons Ban if Congress passed it (even as his administration saw to it that the renewal would never make it to his desk).

GunVoters have been unenthusiastic about supporting Mitt Romney in light of his support for an “AW” ban in Massachusetts and some of his statements on the issue in his early presidential efforts. His transition over the past several years from an avid supporter of useless restrictions on legal gun ownership to a vocal opponent of any additional firearms restrictions warrants a generous grain of salt. Romney’s recent comments dismissing calls for new restrictions on guns and feeding devices in the wake of the Aurora atrocity buoyed the hopes of GunVoters that Romney had indeed seen the light. His subsequent pick of Ryan as his running mate gives further hope to rights advocates. While it’s unknown how much influence Ryan might have on gun policy decisions in a Romney administration, at least gun owners would have a reliable advocate close to the president – and an inside track on having a serious pro-rights candidate for the top job down the road.

Ironically, the importance of the VP pick was the topic of my first conversation with Paul Ryan back in 2004. During a casual chat at a Washington reception, I opined that Republicans should have shifted from old stalwart – and future presidential non-contender – Dick Cheney, to a younger, more dynamic and potential future presidential contender for the VP slot. Ryan disagreed, apparently concerned that this would lead to even more political cronyism and institutionalized party control over the process. Now, eight years later, Ryan is fulfilling my hopes for a future contender in the VP position. There is no telling what the next four or eight years might bring, but barring some serious gaffs on Ryan’s part, he will no doubt be high on the list of future contenders for the Oval Office.

On the other side of the slate, Barack Obama and Joe Biden both have radical anti-rights records, and Obama doubled down after the Aurora outrage by expressing support for additional restrictions on lawful firearm owners. At the same time, Democrats, who have historically been much better than Republicans at nurturing their young stars – such as the dynamic young man who gave a stirring speech at the 2004 Democratic National Convention – are now floundering with Joe Biden dragging behind the Obama ship of state like a slipped anchor. Even if Obama does manage to win a second term, there is little hope on the horizon of a Democrat win in 2016.

Voters should see clear distinctions between Obama and Romney, and the distinctions grow starker when Biden and Ryan are entered into the equation. GunVoters in particular should see enough distinction to not only oppose Obama-Biden and their “under the radar” assaults on liberty, that many will actively support a Romney-Ryan ticket. Those who do should make it clear that it is Ryan’s pro-rights record that has attracted them and that any waffling or wobbling on gun rights will haunt Republican hopefuls for years to come.

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