- The Washington Times - Sunday, May 8, 2016

Donald Trump heads this month to the National Rifle Association’s annual convention in Kentucky riding a wave of strong support from the country’s gun owners, who say he’s just what they’re looking for in November.

While pro-lifers, tax-cutters and others in the conservative coalition are struggling with Mr. Trump as the likely GOP presidential nominee, gun rights leaders say there’s no hurdle for them.

“I have not seen anything on the issue of guns that’s caused me to hesitate with him,” said Philip Van Cleave, president of the Virginia Citizens Defense League.

“He seems to be the real deal on guns,” Mr. Van Cleave said. “I’ve not seen anything where he’s done anything but [be] very much in line with what gun owners want.”

Mr. Trump has frequently touted his pro-gun bona fides on the campaign trail, and will bring his positions with him to Louisville later this month when he speaks at the NRA Institute for Legislative Action Leadership Forum at the gun group’s annual gathering.

“Hillary Clinton wants to take your guns away, and she wants to abolish the Second Amendment,” Mr. Trump said at a rally in Washington over the weekend. “We’re going to cherish the Second Amendment. We’re going to take care of the Second Amendment.”

Mr. Trump did write in his 2000 book, “The America We Deserve,” that while he generally opposes gun control, he supported a ban on so-called assault weapons and a slightly longer waiting period for a gun.

Erich Pratt, a spokesman for Gun Owners of America, pointed to those comments as evidence that Mr. Trump has taken “some anti-gun positions in the past” — but he also said the candidate has “certainly staked out a pro-gun position on supporting concealed carry and opposing gun-free zones.”

Mr. Trump’s position statement on the Second Amendment now calls gun and magazine bans a “total failure,” and says the country shouldn’t expand a broken background check system.

He also is calling for a national right to carry and says a concealed carry permit should work in all 50 states, and that U.S. military personnel should be able to carry firearms on bases and at recruiting centers.

“Whatever his comments have been in the past, he’s been very vocal, and he often addressed the issue before other candidates have,” said John R. Lott Jr., president of the Crime Prevention Research Center. “Surely, since at least the campaign and maybe a little bit before, he’s been very consistent on the gun issue.”

Indeed, he’s released a policy paper on Second Amendment rights — one of only seven such papers he’s produced in the 11 months since he entered the campaign.

On his website he also touts the fact that he is a gun owner and has a permit to carry a concealed firearm.

Mr. Van Cleave said Mr. Trump presents a stark contrast to likely Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton, who has frequently gone after the gun lobby and the NRA on the campaign trail.

“These are two choices [who] couldn’t be further apart,” he said.

Republican leaders are holding a very public self-scrutiny, with many GOP lawmakers and prominent conservative pundits saying they will not vote for Mr. Trump because of his stances and his brash approach to campaigning.

The billionaire businessman has called for infrastructure spending, has warned against cuts to entitlement programs and has railed against the Trans-Pacific Partnership, a trade deal championed by many Republicans, including House Speaker Paul D. Ryan.

Fiscal conservative groups ran ads trying to derail his campaign in the primary, arguing he wasn’t a pro-free market conservative.

Meanwhile, past comments that he was adamantly pro-choice have produced heartburn among pro-life leaders.

Mr. Lott, though, said gun control, apart from any other issue, is one where there is a clear ideological delineation in the country, and Mr. Trump benefits from that.

“The one issue that most differentiates liberals and conservatives isn’t abortion, isn’t taxes, isn’t lots of other issues — it’s gun control,” he said.

• David Sherfinski can be reached at dsherfinski@washingtontimes.com.

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