Republican presidential front-runner Mitt Romney faces a tough task Friday afternoon when he addresses thousands of members of the National Rifle Association in St. Louis. Romney's position on gun rights has evolved throughout his political career and he has a history of opposing measures supported by the powerful special interest group.
The NRA has repeatedly proven itself a force not only in Republican politics, but for Democrats serving in conservative districts as well. It has both an effective get-out-the-vote effort and savvy, well-funded messaging during elections.
Leading up to the election of President Obama in 2008, the NRA whipped up such a frenzy of fear about what his presidency would mean for gun owners that there was a run on ammunition in some parts of the country. And while so far Obama has stayed far away from gun issues, the NRA is expected to continue its anti-Obama campaign this time focusing on what could happen during an unrestrained second term.
So there's no doubt that the likely Republican nominee will be favored over the incumbent president by members, but Romney's task is to overcome resistance among gun owners without appearing to be blatantly pandering as he's done in the past. And it's just one example of how the so-called flip-flopper must negotiate his record as a moderate governor to 'severely conservative' candidate to someone the majority of Americans can support.
While running his first political campaign, a Senate race against incumbent liberal lion Ted Kennedy in Massachusetts, Romney sought to assure the state's very Democratic electorate he was a moderate Republican. Part of this strategy led him to voice support for legislation in Congress that would have banned nearly 20 types of assault weapons as well as the Brady bill, which implemented a waiting period on gun sales. Both those measures were fiercely opposed by the NRA. These issues led Romney to state during that contest that he "didn't line up with the NRA."
During a debate while he was running for governor of Massachusetts in 2002, Romney re-iterated his support for the Bay State's tough gun laws.
"We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts. I support them. I won't chip away at them. I believe they help protect us and provide for our safety," he said.
After winning his Massachusetts gubernatorial race in 2002, Romney doubled-down on his electoral rhetoric and signed a permanent statewide ban on assault weapons, including Uzi's and AK-47's. But the measure also made concessions to sportsmans groups by extending the length of time for firearm identification cards and licenses from four years to six years, creating a three month grace period for renewal of expired licenses, and establishing an appeals board to review denials firearm license applications.
"Deadly assault weapons have no place in Massachusetts," Romney said at the bill signing, according to local news reports. "These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense. They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people."
Romney, who declined to run for re-election in 2006, moved ahead with his presidential aspirations and became a lifetime member of the NRA that year just months before declaring his candidacy, according to the Boston Globe.
In 2007, he faced tough scrutiny from Meet The Press host Tim Russert over his position on gun rights. Romney maintained that he still didn't "line up 100 percent with the NRA" and that he still supported bans on "unusually lethal" guns. He also said technology that allows for instant background checks makes the Brady bill's waiting period unnecessary.
"We should not interfere with the right of law-abiding citizens to own guns, either for their own personal protection or hunting or any other lawful purpose. I support the work of the NRA, I'm a member of the NRA," Romney had said to Russert.
Romney's campaign website touts his support for the 2nd Amendment right to "keep and bear arms." Sticking to his main campaign theme of focusing on the economy, it also states that he recognizes "extraordinary number of jobs and other economic benefits that are produced by hunting, recreational shooting, and the firearms and ammunition industry."
As for promises, the site claims Romney will enforce current laws and punish criminals who misuse firearms.
Addressing his Massachusetts record, the website says, Romney "worked hard to advance the ability of law-abiding citizens to purchase and own firearms, while opposing liberal desires to create bureaucracy intended to burden gun owners and sportsmen." But there is no mention of the quadrupling of firearm licensing fees or his signing of the assault weapons ban law.