Vice President Mike Pence was given the National Rifle Association’s highest award Thursday night, though the iconic flintlock rifle which typically accompanies the bestowment was nowhere in sight.
Perhaps as scarce as any gun prop on stage during Pence’s speech at the Conservative Political Action Conference was the talk of guns or gun policy.
Pence lauded the work of President Trump in keeping his promise to strengthen the nation’s military and applauded his nomination of Neil Gorsuch for Supreme Court “in the tradition of the late and great Justice Antonin Scalia.”
The vice president called this the most important time in the history of the conservative movement and rightly so. The Republican party has gained momentum in recent years with its domination of Congress and its recent presidential win — and with it a vital seat on the bench of the highest court in the land.
Democrats are calling foul because the Republican Senate refused to confirm President Obama’s nomination, choosing instead to stall confirmation and give the nomination to an incoming president.
But as Sen. Ted Cruz said in his CPAC address, securing Scalia’s seat is just defense. The Texas senator went on to predict an additional Supreme Court vacancy this summer, giving Republicans the opportunity to lock in yet another lifelong justice and enshrine conservative ideals into the American political lexicon for perhaps at least another generation.
Pence wasn’t handed the NRA rifle on stage after Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, announced he’d won the “Charlton Heston Courage Under Fire Award” Thursday night, robbing gun rights advocates of an important photo opportunity.
Were Maryland’s strict gun laws the reason Cox was unable to present the award on stage? Several requests for comment went unanswered by the NRA and the White House.
“The award is a flintlock rifle, it’s what the mainstream media calls a high-powered weapon of war, so we left it out back,” Cox said before introducing the vice president.
Cox regaled the crowd with a recap of the 2016 election. He reminded attendees of the day Scalia died, just weeks before last year’s CPAC gathering.
“That day, the stakes of the 2016 elections fundamentally changed,” Cox said. “This was no longer a fight for the next four years, this was going to be a fight for the next 40 years.”
For Second Amendment supporters, it once again conjured a fear of losing gun rights.
“Our right to keep and bear arms survived the Supreme Court by just one vote and he had just passed away,” Cox said, referring to the crucial DC v. Heller case, which essentially upheld handgun use in home self-defense.
“Hillary’s view: She said it was a terrible decision — that the Supreme Court was wrong on the Second Amendment,” Cox said. “So we decided that freedom could not afford for us to wait.”
The comment was made through then-presidential candidate Hillary Clinton’s policy adviser: ”Clinton believes Heller was wrongly decided in that cities and states should have the power to craft common sense laws to keep their residents safe, like safe storage laws to prevent toddlers from accessing guns,” said Maya Harris in a May 20 statement. “In overturning Washington D.C.’s safe storage law, Clinton worries that Heller may open the door to overturning thoughtful, common sense safety measures in the future.”
The same day, the NRA announced its endorsement of Trump for president. Trump campaigned on strong gun issues and as president has promised to carry them through — those include ridding the nation of gun-free zones and national reciprocity for concealed carry permit holders.
Pence, too, has been lauded by the NRA — the group called him a “freedom fighter” in the November edition of its magazine — for his support of the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act, which protects gun manufacturers and sellers from lawsuits when their products are used in crimes.
In 2012, Pence was given an A-rating by the gun group during the Indiana gubernatorial race he won, during which time he supported the right to carry. Pence has also been a strong supporter of the shooting sports.