- The Washington Times - Thursday, April 27, 2017

ATLANTA — Gun rights backers need to make sure that election victories translate into action on Capitol Hill and expanded support in the states, the National Rifle Association’s legislative chief said Thursday, a day ahead of President Trump’s speech at the NRA’s annual convention.

Enacting concealed-carry reciprocity, which would allow permit holders from one state to carry their weapons anywhere else in the U.S., is a top priority for the NRA now that the organization has a friendly Congress and a president it eagerly backed.

But Chris W. Cox, executive director of the NRA Institute for Legislative Action, told The Washington Times that NRA members can’t become complacent in the post-Obama era.

“We’ll leave Atlanta with a determination to make sure that November wasn’t a temporary moment but a permanent political red line,” he said. “American freedom and individual freedom is too important to suffer due to apathy. NRA members know that, and I think you’re going to see a reflection of that this weekend.”

Mr. Cox said the NRA is excited to have Mr. Trump in the White House but that the work isn’t done.

“This is an important time in Second Amendment history,” he said. “It was a critical battle that was won, but the war rages on and we’re still getting up and fighting every day to protect the rights of our members, and it’s going to be a big celebration of that this weekend in Atlanta.”

Mr. Cox said executive actions such as the selection of Neil Gorsuch for the U.S. Supreme Court and rolling back an Obama-era rule on Social Security and gun background checks give Mr. Trump a solid A thus far.

“Across the board, we are seeing measurables and deliverables from President Trump as it relates to the Second Amendment,” he said.

“Now, does that mean everything’s done and we need to all stop worrying? Of course not. The fight’s still there; we have to continue to push the ball forward,” he said.

At the top of the list at the federal level is getting the national concealed carry reciprocity bill through Congress and onto Mr. Trump’s desk.

“The expansion of self-defense will remain our No. 1 legislative priority until the rights of law-abiding Americans are respected,” Mr. Cox said.

“We’re working hard to educate and encourage co-sponsorship and work through the appropriate legislative process, and at the same time leveraging our greatest asset in this fight, which are NRA members all across this country,” he said.

“So we feel good about our chances, but there’s a lot of work to do, obviously,” he said.

All 50 states allow some kind of concealed carry, but they have different rules and requirements about how people obtain permits and which out-of-state permits are recognized.

Gun rights advocates say a national standard should be set, but opponents of such a move say a federal bill could undermine states that have imposed stricter rules.

“Get it passed — I don’t care how they do it,” said Paul Heimbach, 78, a retired Air Force officer from Florida. “The Democrats are going to be against it regardless.”

Erich Pratt, executive director of Gun Owners of America, said he has no doubt that concealed carry reciprocity will pass the House but not necessarily the Senate.

Republicans control 52 of the 100 Senate seats but would have to attract some Democratic support to meet the 60-vote threshold needed to thwart any filibuster.

“Getting the bill through the Senate will be a little bit tougher,” Mr. Pratt said. “We have a clear majority of senators supporting the bill, and we are working to make sure there are enough to break a filibuster.”

Beyond Congress, though, Mr. Cox said the NRA is engaged at the state level as well.

“We saw in Iowa a comprehensive pro-Second Amendment bill signed into law,” he said. “We’ve seen in state after state more pro-gun laws. No anti-gun legislation has been signed into law this year, but obviously we’re working hard to make sure that holds.

“Whether it takes us into the Congress or onto the airwaves or into state legislatures or into courtrooms, that’s where you’ll find us,” he said.

The NRA endorsed Mr. Trump at its convention last year in Louisville, Kentucky, months before the he formally accepted the Republican presidential nomination. Mr. Cox said the president’s attendance this year indicates that he knows how critical that support was.

On Friday, Mr. Trump will become the first sitting U.S. president to speak at the convention since Ronald Reagan.

“We made that commitment early,” Mr. Cox said. “We were consistent. It was a lonely summer. There were times when we were the only group in America with the guts to support him.”

“But we never wavered because the stakes of the election and consequences of [the] election never changed,” he said.

Gun control activists are planning to protest in Atlanta this weekend after Mr. Trump’s appearance and have tried to organize aggressively on lobbying efforts in recent years as well.

Mr. Cox said the NRA can’t go “dollar for dollar” with someone like former New York City Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg, who helped found the group Everytown for Gun Safety.

“But what we’ve been able to do is beat him vote by vote,” he said. “So if he wants to engage in this issue, we welcome the fight.”


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