by Robert G. Yetman, Jr.
One of the tricky issues for conservative voters in vetting candidates vying for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination has to do with their positions on the matter of guns and gun ownership. Some gun enthusiasts insist that a candidate not only express his or her enthusiastic support for the 2nd Amendment, and gun rights, more generally, but also be actual gun owners themselves, in order to earn real legitimacy on the matter of gun rights. I’m not sure how I feel about that, myself. That is, I am personally aware of people who are strong supporters of the 2nd Amendment who do not happen to own guns themselves. That said, I have to admit that when it comes to the position of public servants, there is a significant gravitas that accrues to them when they not only espouse strong pro-gun positions, but also own several firearms, as well. Meeting that standard establishes them as unmistakable members of the gun-owning fraternity, and as people who gun rights supporters can be confident will represent their interests with the appropriate level of passion.
So, all of this said, where does the current crop of Republican candidates fall on the spectrum of support for gun rights? It’s a good question to ask, and there are some interesting answers. I think that one of the most curious positions, historically, has been held by current frontrunner Donald Trump. Trump, not long ago, formally outlined his “policy” on gun rights, and it reflects positions that most of us favor, including the institution of a national “right to carry” law that would allow citizens to carry concealed in all 50 states. It is worth noting, however, that, several years ago, Trump was not nearly as enthusiastic about gun rights. Among other things, he publicly came out in favor of longer waiting periods, as well as for support of an assault weapons ban. Of course, the more recent version of Trump has been much more pro-gun, and it is good to see, but his overall history on the subject justifiably gives people like myself pause. I’m inclined to take him at his word now, and I do believe that people are allowed to change their positions on issues, over time, but I do wish that his views were more consistent over the course of his adult years. In his favor is the fact that he does own a firearm, and also possesses a concealed carry permit.
After Trump, the most legitimate contenders for the nomination, at this writing, are Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, and Ted Cruz. Carson’s history on the subject is something I find problematic. Carson now cites himself as an enthusiastic supporter of the 2nd Amendment, but as recently as 2013, his expressed views on the topic of guns left a lot to be desired. During an interview that year, Carson actually suggested that what kind of gun you own should hinge, in part, on where you live in these United States; he indicated that those folks who live in more urban, or otherwise more populated, settings should probably not be permitted ownership of semi-automatic guns, while those who live in more rural settings should have unfettered access to semi-autos (and, apparently, the 2nd Amendment itself). As for whether Carson owns a firearm himself, that is not known.
The other two principal contenders are Rubio and Cruz. We know that Rubio has been the recipient of an “A” rating from the National Rifle Association, and while that sounds good, there are reasons to be suspicious about just how Rubio feels about guns. Rubio has previously gone on record that he is in favor of background checks and waiting periods, and he was also known to come down against legislation in his home state of Florida that would have permitted employees to carry while at work. While he does own a gun himself, a .357 Magnum revolver, it is understood that he purchased it when he decided to run for senate five years ago, and, by his own admission, he rarely fires it. Overall, Rubio’s position on gun rights is not strong, in my opinion.
As for Ted Cruz, his legitimacy on the subject of support for guns and gun rights seems solid. He owns a couple of guns, which is always good, and that ownership complements his long-standing record of staunchly supporting the 2nd Amendment while serving the people of Texas. He was a winning advocate for 2nd Amendment interests while solicitor general of the state, and has the endorsement of the Gun Owners of America, a group described by Rand Paul as “the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington.”
At this time, there’s little point to running down the gun ownership and historical gun rights positions of each candidate, because, in my estimation, the four cited here are, of the declared candidates, the “final four” competing for the nomination. Of these four, Cruz is really the only one who evidences himself as a sincere, long-time supporter of gun rights. As I said previously, I’m willing to take Trump at face value for now, and largely because it would result in chaos for someone of his stature as a candidate to late back away from the formidable pro-gun policy he outlined a few months ago. I don’t trust Carson all that much on guns, and I think Rubio falls into that disconcerting category of “reasonable gun owner” that suggests he is fine with numerous restrictions on firearms ownership.