- - Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The Pew Research Center recently released poll data showing that today, 63 percent of Americans believe having a firearm in their home is the best way to protect themselves and their families from crime. Only 30 percent disagreed. These numbers, released just two years after the tragic school shootings in Connecticut and the Obama administration’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to persuade Congress to enact new gun control laws, underscores the importance of the firearms debate on American politics.

The role of hunters, shooters and firearms owners in national, state and even local elections has been hotly debated for years. National Rifle Association leaders have maintained since the late 1960s, when the NRA first became active in electoral politics, that Second Amendment supporters generally — and particularly those who look to the NRA for leadership — often make the difference in elections at the national, state and local levels. On the other side, NRA critics — like former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg — insist that the NRA’s influence and the importance of the so-called “gun vote” is more hype than reality. As a result, most gun control advocates spend a good deal of time trying to play down its influence.

Ironically, many Democratic leaders over the years have tended to agree more with the NRA’s claims than with those of their liberal, anti-gun party allies. Before leaving office in 2001, for example, then-President Bill Clinton famously traced his Vice President’s failure to win the White House to the NRA vote, which he claimed cost Al Gore five states and the presidency.

In races since 2000, many candidates, fearing the consequences of being perceived as anti-Second Amendment, have tried to position themselves as pro-gun, pro-hunting and as strong Second Amendment supporters — despite, in many cases, their voting records to the contrary. The photos of presidential candidate John Kerry goose hunting, U.S. Senate candidate Jean Carnahan on the skeet field (with price tags still hanging on her shooting vest, no less) and President Obama’s targeted 2012 television ads declaring his support for the Second Amendment and promising that “I will never take your guns” reflect this reality.

Second Amendment issues became something of a political football in the late 1960s, as what is often today called the “culture war” developed between the left and right. Until that time, there was little partisan difference on such issues and little real debate over the meaning of the Second Amendment.

A perfect example of this is President John F. Kennedy, who was actually an NRA Life Member. That all changed with the passage of the Gun Control Act of 1968, during the waning days of the Johnson Administration, and was soon followed by a proposal from President Nixon’s Attorney General, which called for a ban on the private ownership of handguns. “Gun control” was assumed at the time to be extremely popular and superficial poll data convinced politicians that the public wanted more restrictions on firearms ownership.

Politicians at the time didn’t foresee the backlash on the horizon. Millions of pro-gun voters mobilized and the NRA, which didn’t even have a political or lobbying arm until 1975, began speaking out. Within just a few years, the polls began turning and anti-gun politicians began losing their elections as a result.

Still, until now, much of the evidence of the impact of Second Amendment voters has been anecdotal, although strong enough to influence political decisions among many candidates of both parties. Democrats and Republicans alike, particularly at the state and local levels, value the NRA endorsement and those who get it often tout it in broadcast and print ads, as well as on posters and billboards. Others who dismiss NRA support as unimportant, or who believe voters in their state or district are less influenced by the gun vote, attack the NRA and the concept of the “right to keep and bear arms” — often at their political peril.

In Maryland’s 2014 gubernatorial election, for example, the Democratic Lt. Governor seeking to succeed Martin O’Malley ran ad after ad attacking Larry Hogan, the eventual winner, for receiving the NRA endorsement.

The NRA Institute for Legislative Action (ILA), is responsible for all NRA lobbying and political campaign activity (along with the NRA’s federal political action committee, the NRA Political Victory Fund) and is headed by Chris Cox. Whenever someone is referring to the political or election activities of NRA, they are essentially talking about the ILA arm.

Operating out of offices in Washington, DC and Fairfax, Va., ILA, like most professionally sophisticated political organizations, polls extensively before and during elections to frame its message and mobilize Second Amendment voters. In recent years, it has also enlisted a number of independent, experienced independent pollsters to conduct extensive post election polls to measure the impact of its efforts and the gun vote in targeted races.

This year, for the first time, Cox has shared much of this data with The Washington Times, which provides the basis of this special report. This data explodes a number of myths about the importance of the Second Amendment vote and provides empirical evidence that NRA supporters are not limited to a small niche of the American electorate. The “gun vote,” it turns out, is an important factor in races across the country, despite the fact that some experts in the past have chosen to dismiss it.

The NRA’s post-election survey work in 2014 was done by the Alexandria, Va.-based OnMessage, Inc. and directed by the firm’s polling director, Wes Anderson. Anderson has been in the polling business for more than 20 years, serving as Haley Barbour’s polling director when he chaired the Republican National Committee and directing the National Republican Senatorial Committee’s 2010 Independent Expenditure program. He has polled in past years for dozens of Senate, House and gubernatorial candidates.

The findings are interesting not just from a historic perspective, but for what they tell us about the potential impact of Second Amendment issues on the 2016 Presidential contest. The NRA is unlikely to get involved at the primary stage, according to Cox, because all the GOP candidates running for their party’s nomination have proven both rhetorically and based on their records reliable Second Amendment supporters. In the 2016 general election, however, the NRA could play a decisive role.=

Hillary Clinton, the likely Democratic nominee, has a long record of opposition to the NRA and as a gun control advocate. In the early days of the Obama Administration, her State Department let it be known that the United States would not longer object to a Small Arms Trade Treaty that might impact US civilian gun owners rights. As a result, the UN did approve a treaty which was later signed by her successor as Secretary of State, but has yet to be submitted to the Senate for ratification. Republican and Democratic Senators alike have raised questions about the treaty’s potential impact on traditional Second Amendment rights and have vowed to prevent its ratification.

Given her record and the fact that as resident she would be able to make judicial appointments that could lead to a reversal of the Supreme Court’s current interpretation of the Second Amendment, the NRA could be in a position to mobilize and deliver more votes in November 0f next year than at any time in its history.

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