If Democrats have a beef with President Obama about anything, it’s what they perceive as his indifference towards gun control. In moments that have intensified post-Tucson, Democrats and gun control advocates have taken President Barack Obama to task over gun control time and time again with one of their largest criticisms being that the President has not aggressively pursued gun control, if he’s pursued it at all.
Indeed it was only last month that the President announced with Michael Bloomberg’s group Mayors Against Illegal Guns fanning the flames the start of talks over legislation aimed at closing the infamous Gun Show Loophole by requiring background checks on all gun sales.
But if you were one of the 70,000 in attendance at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting held in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania last week, you would have never suspected any discontent in the ranks of the Left concerning gun control. In what quickly became more an anti-Obama rally than a pro-gun rally, of any one political figure, Obama’s name came up more than any other.
Kicking off the proceedings in front of a highly animated auditorium audience, incoming NRA President David Keene harangued the President’s supposed “war on the Second Amendment.” He stated, “In Barack Obama, we have a president who is more opposed to gun ownership than any in our history and who still believes he’ll prevail. Make no mistake about it: Barack Obama, his minions in the Justice Department, his allies in the Congress, and his friends in the media would take our guns if they could and they will if they can.”
Most political analysts attribute the NRA’s unabashed Obama obsession to the simple fact that conservatives lack a realistic candidate of their own and, without someone to trumpet, firing up voters for the upcoming 2012 circus means rhetoric must by default be focused on the President.
Keene’s words seemed to resonate with 71-year-old retiree Frank Tenerovich who lives in the Pittsburgh suburbs and took his grandson to the rally, mostly for the manufacturers’ booths. He told reporters at the convention hall, “It’s a potent message. He’s [Obama] anti-gun enough that he could take us down the tube. He’s anti a lot of things that I’m for, but that’s the one that scares me the most.”
And in support of analysts’ suspicions, Tenerovich was also quick to complain about the shortcomings of the Republican and conservative candidates. He told the press he was not enamored with anyone.
A symptom of the concerted efforts from the NRA and other gun rights lobbyists, conservatives saw heavy legislative gains (about 26 seats) during the midterm elections in November and in the past three years there have also been significant advances in terms of the gun rights agenda at the state level as Guns.com has covered since our inception. With a Conservative House and what amounts to a pro-gun majority in the Senate, the fact remains and most political analysts agree the president couldn’t undertake the long road to gun control even if he tried.
The NRA commands nearly 4 million members who have the reputation in Washington for lockstepping with the gun activists’ voting instructions and this represents a temptingly large demographic open to the courtship of presidential hopefuls. In addition to this, they around 75 million on political campaigns over the past 20 years and about $10 million of which was spent in the 2008 elections. It is believed the NRA spent $40 million in 2000.
A spokesman for the NRA communicated that they have yet to endorse a candidate or establish a budget for 2012 political spending. They also told conference goers they had no intention of supporting a candidate prematurely, affirming their belief that competition will separate the wheat from the chaff. The spokesman continued:
“One of the great things that’s going to happen in this process is that candidates are going to sort themselves out. Many gun owners are going to have preferences throughout the way and are going to be working and volunteering for and supporting different candidates, which is fine because the larger [the] presence we as a community have in any campaign, we can raise issues of awareness on the Second Amendment, we can get commitments from candidates, all with the understanding that it’s healthy to go through a nominating process.”
On the other side of the coin, it has been the source of much debate amongst citizens and political science majors alike whether US politicians’ well-documented fear of the gun lobby is healthy or unhealthy for America.
Assuredly, placating gun owner ire contributed to the President signing bills in 2009 that allowed visitors to carry guns on board Amtrak trains and in national parks—the only two actual pieces of gun legislation he has personally weighed in on during his presidency despite rumors to the contrary—and in an opinion piece published in the Arizona Star last March, his attempts to oversell his belief in that the Second Amendment “guarantees an individual right to bear arms” were painfully clear.
NRA leaders conceded at the conference numerous times that the President has not been antagonistic to the gun cause and acknowledged his rhetoric has been “gun kind,” but still profess a wolf in sheep’s clothing theory. In support of this, they direct gun owners to check out Obama’s support of handgun and semi-auto bans while still a US Senator from Illinois. Of even more pertinence, they decried his choice of presidential appointments and the members of his cabinet, namely Supreme Court Justices Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Janet Napolitano and, above all, Attorney General Eric Holder.
Keene openly accused Holder and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives of needlessly persecuting gun dealers and NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre demanded his resignation citing the botched ATF sting operation, known satirically as Project Gunwalker, that allowed American guns to find their way to Mexico.
And with that hefty piece of the “votership” pie sitting unguarded on the grand picnic table, political candidates made their presence known in Pittsburgh last week either in person or via video message.
Without question Mike Huckabee wore the crown this year as the candidate that received the most positive feedback. He drew loud applause after digging up a statement Obama made three years ago that embittered people cling to guns and religion. Mitt Romney, who recorded a message, elicited the proverbial cricket chirp from a packed house, credited in part to his support of the assault weapon ban during his 1994 Senatorial run. “Gun owners have long memories,” said event organizer.
Newt Gingrich echoed the conference theme, warning gun owners of a conspiracy between the Obama administration and the United Nations. He said “They’re [Obama and UN] now developing a stealth strategy in which they combine anti-gun judges with anti-gun treaties. They will then try to strip us of our rights by judicial fiat.”
He also told a large audience that on his first day as president he would sign an executive order to change the way the Justice Department prosecutes gun crimes.
Possibly more telling of the current state of the conservative political climate was who didn’t show up and the NRA’s reaction to their absence. One name and one name only sticks out here and that name is Sarah Palin. At the NRA’s last meeting in Charlotte, Sarah Palin was hands down the belle of the ball. She boasted about her lifetime membership in the NRA and bemused onlookers with anecdotes about baby showers at gun ranges. The former Alaska governor was MIA in Pittsburgh and of an even bigger surprise, she didn’t send a video or audio message as many candidates did. She wasn’t even really mentioned in speeches during the conference.
When questioned, it appeared that many conference attendees still had a favorable opinion about her, but most had written her off as a viable political candidate.