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This Could Be The First Election The Gun Lobby Doesn’t Stand By The Republican Nominee

Donald Trump speaks at the National Rifle Association convention Friday, April 10, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK HUMPHREY
Donald Trump speaks at the National Rifle Association convention Friday, April 10, 2015, in Nashville, Tenn. CREDIT: AP PHOTO/MARK HUMPHREY

In his 2000 book The America We Deserve, Donald Trump wrote about his support for common-sense gun control measures, including a ban on assault weapons and longer waiting periods before people can buy firearms. He also called out Republican politicians who are beholden to the gun lobby.

“The Republicans walk the NRA line and refuse even limited restrictions,” he wrote.

Less than two decades later, Trump has become one of those Republicans he criticized. “I love the NRA. I love the Second Amendment,” he told the National Rifle Association’s annual convention last year, just months before launching his presidential campaign. “I promise you one thing. If I run for president and if I win, the Second Amendment will be totally protected.”

Next week, for the second year in a row, Trump will speak at the group’s annual meeting, a gathering of tens of thousands of single issue voters who are ready to embrace the real estate mogul and support his run for the White House.

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Trump is aware of how important those pro-gun voters are to the Republican Party. Since launching his campaign, he has released a Second Amendment plan that’s almost entirely copied from the NRA’s playbook and he has made his support for eliminating “gun free zones” one of his regular talking points.

With those simple steps, the NRA seems willing to turn a blind eye to Trump’s moderate past. Though the group has not endorsed a presidential candidate, it has always supported the Republican nominee. This election, it has made its disdain for Hillary Clinton and the need to elect anybody but her abundantly clear. And it refrained from joining the movement to Stop Trump that took hold of the Republican Party earlier this year.

If the NRA has already decided they’re for Trump, that’s their decision. But we’re not there yet.

But many staunch gun control opponents are still reluctant to support a candidate who once called for any form of gun control.

“We’d like very much for Mr. Trump to find some way to walk back what he has written in his book about wanting to ban semi-automatic rifles and expand the background check,” said Larry Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America (GOA), a “no-compromise” national organization that’s more extreme on guns than the NRA.

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“He has of course since then said that he supports the Second Amendment,” Pratt continued. “I’ve heard Senator Schumer say the same thing, so maybe that’s the way they talk in New York, but I don’t understand. It just seems to me that he hasn’t really understood what limited constitutional government is all about.”

GOA often criticizes the NRA for being too soft on guns. After the Sandy Hook shooting, it attacked the NRA for remaining silent while it was calling for more guns in more places. So Pratt said the groups’ differences when it comes to the presidential election are not surprising.

“If the NRA has already decided they’re for Trump, that’s their decision,” he said. “But we’re not there yet.”

Though Pratt’s group endorsed Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) earlier in the primary, he said he’s unlikely to endorse anyone in the general election — even if Trump if the only option to defeat Hillary Clinton, who he says will mean disaster for the Second Amendment.

Pratt isn’t the only anti-gun control advocate who remains skeptical of Trump. The Trace has noted that Bob Owens, who runs the website Bearing Arms, wrote that “Donald Trump will be the death of the Second Amendment.” And another pro-gun hub, The Truth About Guns, has asked if Trump is an “anti-gun rights dictator.”

“We simply cannot risk a candidate with so little real regard for constitutional principles, including our Second Amendment right to bear arms,” Owens wrote.

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Earlier in the primary, Trump’s rivals also used his past positions on guns as a line of attack. Cruz and other Republicans hit Trump for his support of an assault weapons ban, and questioned whether he would nominate someone to replace Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia who is pro-Second Amendment.

“He has no principles when it comes to the gun issue,” Tim Miller, the former communications director of Jeb Bush’s presidential campaign, told The Trace. “He’s criticized Republicans for being too beholden to the NRA. And there’s no reason to believe, if it benefited own interests, that he wouldn’t completely flip on those who value Second Amendment rights.”

But the attacks didn’t seem to stick, and as Trump continued to win primaries in staunchly pro-gun states, the NRA was forced to embrace his candidacy. Though the NRA did not respond to a request for comment, at least one of its board members has recently indicated his support for Trump.

Pratt said the NRA’s willingness to fall for Trump’s “pandering” is disconcerting. With the general election likely to be a battle between Trump and Clinton, Pratt said he and other staunch pro-gun rights supporters are turning their attention elsewhere.

“It means we better be able to maintain a pro-Second Amendment Congress,” he said. “We have a special challenge in front of us.”