The first Republican presidential debate is fast approaching on August 23rd, where candidates will hope to close the gap on former president Donald Trump and separate from the rest of the pack. In this series, Up For Debate, the Washington Examiner will look at a key issue or policy every day up until debate day, and where key candidates stand. Today’s story will examine Second Amendment policies.
Numerous GOP candidates have criticized President Joe Biden and the Democratic Party for being “gun control extremists,” as Biden touted using executive orders 21 times to implement gun reform by July of last year.
In March, he announced further measures to increase background checks and strengthen the effectiveness of “red flag” laws and “hold the gun industry accountable” following a shooting in Monterey Park, California, that killed 11 people and injured nine others.
One month later, Republican candidates embarked on the National Rifle Association‘s convention, just weeks after another mass shooting at a Nashville private Christian school left three children and three adults dead.
While some Republican lawmakers have embraced bipartisan gun restrictions in recent years, groups like the NRA have continued their lobby against such steps, coinciding with now 26 states in the union that allow so-called “constitutional carry,” or carrying without a permit, in addition to a sweeping ruling protecting Second Amendment rights at the Supreme Court in 2022.
During the NRA conference, Trump proposed permitting concealed weapons to be carried across state lines, said we would end the “bullying” of gun shop owners, and pursue tax incentives to arm teachers.
“They want to take away your guns while throwing open the jailhouse doors and releasing bloodthirsty criminals into your communities,” Mr. Trump said of Democrats, vowing to be “your loyal friend and fearless champion once again.”
While Trump has been lauded for his efforts to veto gun control bills passed by the House in 2019 and fought to designate gun stores during the pandemic as “essential businesses,” gun rights advocates have their fair share of qualms with the former president.
One major flaw in the eyes of gun proponents was Trump’s proposal after the February 2018 school shooting in Parkland, Florida, when he vowed his administration would work to raise the age of commercial gun sales up to 21 instead of 18. He’s also been criticized for his administration’s ban on the sale of gun bump stocks, which was an attachment used in the 2017 Las Vegas shooting that killed 58 people.
“In his first term, President Trump largely lived up to his promise to protect Americans’ Second Amendment rights. There have been a few missteps along the way, but on the whole, the Trump Administration has kept its word when it comes to our right to keep and bear arms,” according to a September 2020 analysis from Amy Swearer, a senior fellow for the Heritage Foundation.
Although Gov. Ron DeSantis wasn’t a declared candidate at the time of the convention, the likely second-favorite pick for the GOP presidential nomination appeared at the event by video and has been one of the most vocal proponents of bolstering Second Amendment protections so far in the campaign.
DeSantis highlighted his signature of a bill in April that made Florida the 25th state for residents to carry a gun without a concealed carry permit.
“Amongst the Candidates, DeSantis is the most supportive of the second amendment as we have been able to see his legislative stance in action with regard to permit-less carry, clearly as he has actioned this and ‘carried’ the topic personally, much of the same can be expected,” Alp Sevimlisovy, a millennium fellow at the Atlantic Council, told the Washington Examiner.
DeSantis has also backed a bill to allow 18-year-olds to purchase firearms. In 2019, the governor signed a bill that allowed more teachers to carry guns in school in response to the Parkland shooting.
Sen. Tim Scott (NC), a longtime member of the NRA, has led the way in pushing legislation that bolsters the rights of law-abiding citizens to carry firearms across state lines. In February, he joined several lawmakers by introducing the Constitutional Concealed Carry Reciprocity Act, which would allow people with concealed carry privileges in their home state to exercise those rights in any other state that allows concealed carry.
“Americans have a constitutional right to protect themselves and their families. That right doesn’t vanish when they travel to other states,” said Scott. “I’m proud to champion this common-sense legislation, which codifies law-abiding Americans’ Second Amendment right while protecting individual states’ ability to choose what is best for their citizens.”
Sevimlisovy said candidates such as Scott could be poised to support stances on gun issues similar to Republicans of the early 2000s, by making gun rights the number one objective while subsequently contemplating whether further regulations are needed for improving public safety.
During a 2012 interview with CBS’ Face the Nation, Scott indicated he was against rushing to a judgment on gun reform immediately following a school shooting. Scott has been vocal about increasing mental health screenings for background checks, implementing policy to keep guns out of the hands of terrorists, and voting against several measures that would prohibit the sales of so-called “assault weapons” or high-capacity magazines.
Haley, the former South Carolina governor and ambassador to the United Nations, has made her claim to fame by taking nuanced positions on matters such as her stance on abortion but has recently made a hard appeal to Republicans on gun rights.
“When it comes to our schools, secure our schools,” Haley said during a CNN town hall in June. During that same interview, she pushed back against red flag laws — measures that can temporarily remove people’s guns or block certain people from obtaining guns.
“I don’t trust government to deal with red flag laws. I don’t trust that they won’t take them away from people who rightfully deserve to have them,” Haley said.
Intertwined with Ramaswamy‘s culture-driven policy points are his commitments to the bread-and-butter policies that make GOP candidates successful.
While there’s hardly any mention of Ramaswamy’s gun positions on his own campaign webpage, the venture capitalist candidate, who’s bullish about taking on China, said at the NRA convention: “We’ll put a gun in every Taiwanese household.”
Vivek Ramaswamy, a candidate for the 2024 US president, said: If you don’t want China to invade Taiwan, what we can do is let the NRA (National Rifle Association) open a branch in Taiwan, put a gun in every Taiwan household, and help them defend themselves.🤣
Oh, Americans… pic.twitter.com/pcScxrRRqu
— ShanghaiPanda (@thinking_panda) April 17, 2023
Ramaswamy proposed to “export” the Second Amendment overseas to shield countries like Taiwan from any imminent threat China might pose.
Other Republican presidential candidates, like former Vice President Mike Pence, have sought to ding Democrats on their focus toward restricting Second Amendment rights rather than seeking to punish criminals responsible for the violence.
“We don’t need gun control; we need crime control,” Pence said at the NRA convention after expressing sorrow for the victims of recent shootings.
“To Joe Biden and the gun-control extremists, give up on your pipe dreams of gun confiscation,” Pence said. “Stop endangering our lives with gun bans.”
Former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie has also shown himself to be a bellwether for moderate conservatives on gun policy, as he’s been critical of sweeping gun control laws that critics say infringe on the rights of law-abiding citizens.
“I don’t think with 350 million or so guns out there that tighter gun control is going to keep the gun out of the hands of someone who’s going to do what happened in Las Vegas or what happened in Uvalde or what happened in Sandy Hook,” Christie said at a CNN town hall in June.
Following the May 2022 school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, Christie repeated what numerous conservatives said at the time, that the focus should be on the “mental health crisis in this country.”