DALLAS — Gun rights activists are increasingly restless with leaders in Washington who promised all sorts of big wins for Second Amendment supporters if they would help deliver control of Capitol Hill and the White House to the Republican Party.
Now firmly in control, those leaders have failed to pass much of anything, including concealed-carry reciprocity — the National Rifle Association’s top legislative priority.
As the NRA convention kicks off in Dallas this week, activists are wondering where things went wrong.
“I’m not pleased with the Republicans,” said Michael Butler, 66, of Harker Heights, Texas. “Gun control, about anything you could think of — border security, screwing up everybody’s health care — you could go down the list of the things that they should have been fighting about all along, but I think they’re more concerned with protecting their own positions.”
He said he feared the “deep state” had outmaneuvered the Republican Party. Other NRA activists said Democrats have managed to build a firewall by partnering with the news media and public institutions such as public schools and colleges to promote gun control and leave Republicans cowering.
“They should do more,” said Del Wilder, 75, of Georgetown, Texas. “Republicans [are] afraid of the Democrats because they can slander a Republican in their media and he can be ousted out of Washington.”
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The sense of frustration was palpable among activists as they prepared to hear from President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, who will deliver speeches Friday.
Republicans told NRA members in 2016, heading into elections, that a Republican-controlled Congress would mean not only an end to the Obama administration’s gun control policies, but also an opportunity to advance pro-gun legislation under House Speaker Paul D. Ryan and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.
Provided with majorities in both chambers and control of the executive branch, Republicans revoked an Obama-era rule that would have required the Social Security Administration to scour its records for people who didn’t manage their own finances in order to put their names into a national database of banned gun buyers.
Gun rights activists also count the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Neil M. Gorsuch as a big win.
But passing legislation to expand gun rights has been tough after several mass shootings reshuffled the political environment.
House Republicans had to essentially shelve legislation to loosen restrictions on gun sound suppressors after Majority Whip Steve Scalise, Louisiana Republican, was gravely wounded at a congressional baseball practice on the same day in June that a House committee was scheduled to consider the bill.
The House did pass legislation in December that would recognize out-of-state concealed weapons permits and paired it with a bipartisan measure to give states and federal agencies incentives to share more records with the national gun purchase background check database.
But conservatives say Mr. Ryan broke his promise to insist that the concealed-carry reciprocity bill would be coupled with other gun control measures in Congress.
Instead, Congress approved the Fox NICS legislation to add more records to the National Instant Criminal Background Check System as part of the March omnibus spending deal — but it didn’t include concealed-carry.
Rep. Richard Hudson, the North Carolina Republican who sponsored the concealed-carry legislation, said he thinks it is still on track for approval by the end of the year.
Mr. Hudson, who is scheduled to speak to the NRA convention Friday, said he will remind members how far they have come in recent decades and will point out that every state now has some form of legal concealed-carry.
“We’re as close as we’ve ever been,” he said.
He acknowledged that the aftermath of the Feb. 14 shooting at a school in Parkland, Florida, delayed momentum.
“Talking to pro-Second Amendment senators, I think there was just a sense that the timing was bad and that we’d have a better chance if we waited,” he said.
Mr. Hudson also pointed to comments from the president during a White House summit shortly after the shooting. Mr. Trump told Mr. Scalise that concealed-carry reciprocity language could never pass the full Congress as part of a comprehensive gun package.
But Mr. Hudson said he still thinks he can deliver on his plan to get his bill out of the House and through the Senate this year.
He acknowledged that the Senate remains a hurdle with Republicans holding just 51 of the 100 seats. Filibuster rules give Democrats far more say in the agenda in the upper chamber.
“You know, we’ve got over 300 bills sitting over there — a lot of them passed unanimously out of the House that aren’t being taken up, so it’s easy to get frustrated,” he said.
Ted Kammire, a 65-year-old retiree from Colorado, said Republicans could be doing better on the reciprocity issue and on addressing the mental health side of the gun debate, which is an area seemingly more ripe for bipartisan compromise.
“Reciprocity would be a big help in harassment of legally carrying people,” he said. “And certainly mental health is an area that has to be identifying the people that should not [have] access to weapons.”
Kindle Miller, 46, of Wylie, Texas, said she would give Republicans a rating of five or six out of 10 on gun issues in the past year. She noted that lawmakers had other priorities to tackle but said it’s time to focus.
“I hope they get more aggressive,” she said. “We’re hoping that they’ll step up and do what’s right.”
Mr. Wilder counted Mr. Ryan among the good Republicans in Washington and said he is disappointed that the speaker is leaving.
“He’s totally for everything that Republicans do,” he said. “He’s pushed so hard, and he’s good at it.”
He also said he thought Mr. McConnell is probably a “good guy.”