Republican presidential candidates lining up for 2016 are eager to flaunt their support for the Second Amendment, whether it’s by speaking to pro-gun groups, talking up their own experience with guns or literally posing with firearms. But the latest issue the presidential contenders are tackling is how far they would extend gun rights and how easy it should be to carry a firearm in public.
Expanding where people can carry guns and how — concealed or open — has become a controversial issue between gun owners and groups attempting to put limits on their rights. Pro-gun activists argue that having people carry arms would better protect them from potential shootings, while others cite research showing more guns would lead to more violence.
The NRA is currently pressing Congress to pass legislation which would allow people to carry their concealed weapons across state lines. The group is counting on the support of 53 Senate Republicans — including a number of presidential candidates. And the candidates are just as eager for the NRA’s support. The NRA spent $18.6 million on the 2012 election, an amount that dwarfs that of any gun control group. Not being on the receiving end could substantially hurt a candidate’s chances.
All but two of the expected candidates spoke at the National Rifle Association’s annual meeting in Nashville earlier this month. And the 15 noteworthy contenders collectively own 40 guns. But showing support for the expansion of open and concealed carry across the country has become the latest talking point.
Most of the likely Republican presidential candidates say they are in favor of protecting the Second Amendment, oppose limits on the sales and use of guns and now want to make it easier for people to carry guns.
Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz (R) said this week as an appeal to gun owners in New Hampshire that he is pushing the Senate to allow soldiers on military bases to carry concealed firearms. George H.W. Bush enacted the ban on weapons on bases in 1992. Defense leaders oppose relaxing the rule and say only military police should be armed on bases. But Cruz’s comments highlight the trend among the candidates to flaunt gun rights as a way to one-up each other’s conservatism.
“One of the things I’ve publicly called for on the Armed Services Committee is for us to have hearings on why the military has a policy of not allowing soldiers to carry their firearms onto bases. I am very concerned about that policy,” Cruz told 120 gun owners at a hunting club on Sunday. He added that he thinks “it’s very important to have a public discussion about why we’re denying our soldiers the ability to exercise their Second Amendment rights.”
At the NRA’s meeting, Rick Santorum held up his concealed carry permit during his speech and the other candidates all expressed their opposition to limits on where people can carry guns. Even former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush (R), often considered the most moderate potential Republican candidate, flaunted his state’s gun carry laws.
“Today there are well over 1.3 million law-abiding Floridians with a valid concealed weapons permit,” he said. “That’s the most in the nation — nearly double that of the second state, which is Texas. Sorry, Gov. Perry.”
As they speak generally about gun rights, the candidates are also being asked to weigh in on a current legislative battle. Texas is about to pass legislation that would make it the 45th state to allow gun owners who already have concealed handgun licenses to openly carry their firearms. There are currently more than 841,000 Texans who have a concealed handgun license and would be affected.
But while the legislation is likely to be signed, a recent poll found that more than two-thirds of Texans do not support allowing open carry. Nonetheless, Republican candidates continue to believe people across the country will respond to Second Amendment-touting rhetoric.
“I’m pretty sure New Hampshire’s definition of gun control is kind of what it is in Texas. Gun control means hittin’ what you aim [at],” Cruz said at an event in New Hampshire earlier this year.
But former Texas Governor and likely presidential candidate Rick Perry (R) told the Texas Tribune that he’s is “not necessarily all that fond of this open carry concept,” saying those who carry guns ought to be “appropriately backgrounded, appropriately vetted, appropriately trained.” He did concede that he wants bad guys to know if he’s carrying.
While most of the GOP candidates blend together when it comes to support for the Second Amendment, one Republican contender has so far remained a hold-out among the pack. New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R) was not invited to speak at the NRA’s convention and has been given a “C” grade by the group. As governor, Christie has pushed for stricter gun control laws including expanded background checks and has said he opposes allowing people with concealed-carry licenses from other states to carry their weapons in New Jersey.
As he thinks about launching a presidential campaign, however, he has started to back away from that stance, calling for the “right balance” on guns and saying he would reconsider the state’s strict gun laws if he had a Republican-controlled legislature.