Leaders of the gun-rights movement from around the country gathered in Orlando last weekend for the 27th annual Gun Rights Policy Conference, to network, share information, examine the past year and lay out strategy for the year to come. More than 560 activists attended this year, from almost every state and Puerto Rico. Of course, the November elections loomed large at the gathering with the theme being "Elect Freedom." But as we reported when this event was upcoming, the firearms-rights community is a diverse lot, bringing a variety of views and ideas. Nonetheless, there was a strong consensus that Barack Obama represents a serious threat to the Second Amendment, as well as the rest of the Constitution. With that consensus, it wasn't a big leap for most in the assembly to express support for Mitt Romney and Paul Ryan; however, it is significant that the GRPC offered no formal statement of support or endorsement for the Republican ticket.
It is s huge mistake for Romney and the Republican leadership to assume that just because he has the official endorsement of the National Rifle Association, he will receive the 2 to 4 percent boost to his campaign gun voters can historically provide. While the NRA is the largest gun owner organization in the country, they don't even come close to representing the full power of the gun lobby. Of the estimated 80 to 90 million gun owners in the U.S., only about 4 million are members of the NRA, and even if all 4 million of those members turned out to vote for Romney (which they won't), they would not significantly shift the election results by themselves. The power of gun voters lies not just in our numbers, but in our ability to influence others.
At this point, there are very few in the rights community who could be called active Romney supporters. We tend to fall more into the category of Obama opponents who will vote for Romney as the only viable alternative. While that might be enough to garner a Romney win, it is nowhere close to the potential that could be realized if Romney could gain the active support of our legions – and it wouldn't be all that difficult for him to earn that support.
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Gun voters and others who want a limited government held in check by the Constitution view Romney with extreme skepticism. His comments and actions, both as governor of Massachusetts and during his first forays into presidential politics, have earned the ire and mistrust of constitutionalists. While he has said some of the right things in recent years, there is no record to back up his claims of support for the Second Amendment and the Constitution, and his words have fallen short of convincing most that he has any real conviction about our rights.
If Romney wants gun voters' active support – support beyond just our reluctant votes – he must reassure us that he is going to actively support our rights. Just being marginally better than Barack Obama on our issues is simply not good enough. We want Romney to make it clear that he understands our issues, and to offer assurances that he will implement policies that recognize and support our rights. An easy starting point would be to promise to fire and criminally prosecute all those responsible for the Fast and Furious gunrunning debacle – beginning with prosecution of the Contempt of Congress citation against Attorney General Eric Holder.
After the Batman-movie massacre, Romney made cogent arguments against responding to such atrocities by restricting the rights of law-abiding Americans. He needs to underscore those comments by expressly supporting nationwide concealed-carry reciprocity. He needs to come out for the repeal of laws and regulations that have already crossed the line to infringe on our Second Amendment rights. Illegal long-gun reporting requirements in border states and the blocking of repatriation of M1 Garand rifles and M1 Carbines by Hillary Clinton's State Department are just two of the issues that he could fix directly as president.
In an election as close as this one appears to be, both candidates need every vote they can get. It has been proven that there is no political downside to actively promoting the rights of firearm owners and the Constitution. Gun voters are recognized as a powerful and focused voting bloc, while those who favor firearms restrictions have been shown to be paper tigers with little or no impact on a candidate's electability.
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Gun voters know that they don't want Barack Obama re-elected. But without the additional motivation of feeling confident that Mitt Romney will be significantly better on our issues, many gun owners and rights supporters could give their votes to a third-party candidate, or not bother voting at all – and that could result in Barack Obama winning a second term.
Anyone who tries to argue that Barack Obama is not an enemy to gun owners and the Second Amendment is simply not paying attention or is blinded by partisan loyalty. Claims that Romney has a pro-Second Amendment record are equally specious, but he has been actively working to distance himself from his anti-gun past. The lack of a formal statement of support from the Gun Rights Policy Conference shows that Romney has, so far, fallen short of sealing the deal to secure true support from a significant segment of gun voters. If he wants that support, he needs to act fast to earn it. If he fails to do so, he could find himself just a few votes shy of victory come November.