The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

Top Stories

April 12, 2012

Romney will try to connect at NRA convention

ST. LOUIS — In his quest for the Republican nomination for president, Mitt Romney faced off against one rival who carries a pistol while jogging and another who stopped for target practice on the campaign trail.

Romney, however, has had trouble demonstrating familiarity with hunting and firearms. His sometimes tenuous relationship with gun owners, which will be in the spotlight when he addresses the National Rifle Association Friday at its convention in St. Louis, reflects a theme that has long nagged at Romney’s candidacy.

While he cultivated an heir of inevitability in the GOP race, Romney has not inspired much enthusiasm among grassroots conservatives. Also, he has found it difficult to shake the perception that some of his views are carefully calibrated for the moment.

The contrast may be particularly acute among NRA members who vastly prefer Romney to the Democratic incumbent but look warily at his time as governor of Massachusetts, his support for certain gun control measures and his sometimes half-cocked attempts to describe himself as an outdoorsman.

At times, Romney has boasted of his independence from the NRA and once vowed that he would not “chip away” at tough gun laws in Massachusetts.

Supporters urge Romney to simply be himself, that the former venture capitalist and Harvard Business School graduate need not reinvent himself to energize the Republican base. Romney may already be following that strategy when it comes to his hunting experience, which he has been underplaying — rather than overplaying, as he was criticized for doing in 2008.

However, that pivot may not be enough to win over gun advocates who populate one of the nation’s most influential special interest groups. As many NRA members see it, Romney is just not one of them.

“He’s not a sportsman. He’s not a gun guy,” said Ray Kohout, a lifetime NRA member and principal of Heizer Firearms, a pistol manufacturer in St. Louis. “He’s trying to be one, and he’ll try to be one at the NRA convention, but that’s just not his real person.”

Much of the criticism of Romney’s stance on gun issues stems from his political career in Massachusetts, one of the nation’s most liberal states.

While running against Democratic Sen. Ted Kennedy in 1994, Romney supported the Brady Bill, which instituted background checks on gun purchases, and a federal assault weapons ban.

“That’s not going to make me the hero of the NRA,” Romney said at the time.

While running for governor in 2002, Romney said, “We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts. I support them. I won’t chip away at them.”

Romney’s tenure as governor, from 2003 to 2007, provided more fodder for critics. But opponents have, at times, taken liberties with his record.

It’s true that in 2004 Romney signed a state assault weapons ban bill, declaring the firearms “instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”

But the gun lobby actually supported the bill because it contained provisions seen as friendly to gun owners, such as creating a process to appeal the denial of a firearms permit.

Romney also ushered in lower-profile changes such as free replacements for individuals who misplaced their gun permits and changing the size of the actual firearms license so that it could be carried more easily.

Previously, “it was stupid — you had to fold the thing up to get it in your wallet,” recalled Jim Wallace, executive director of the Gun Owners’ Action League in Massachusetts.

Romney’s record on gun rights has piqued so much interest, Wallace said, that the group has stopped doing interviews on the subject.

“We’ve had so many people ask questions about it,” Wallace said.

Romney’s party rivals have dissected his stance on gun control in much the same way that they have taken apart his views on abortion and health care.

Former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who demonstrated his marksmanship while on the campaign trail, has accused Romney of increasing “taxes on gun licenses by 400 percent.”

Under Romney, Massachusetts approved raising the fee on gun licenses from $25 to $100 (a 300 percent increase), although Romney initially wanted to raise it only to $75. Later, the state increased the duration of the license, from four to six years.

Still, it may be hard for Romney to shake the perception that he is camouflaging himself as a gun enthusiast in order to win political points.

In the build-up to his previous run for president, Romney described himself as a member of the NRA. Later it was disclosed that he had joined the organization just months before he filed campaign paperwork.

In 2007, Romney described himself as a gun owner, when the guns actually belonged to one of his sons, who kept them at a vacation home in Utah. Campaigning that same year in New Hampshire, Romney said he has “been a hunter pretty much all my life.”

It was later reported that, at the time, Romney had only been hunting twice, including once at a political event sponsored by the Republican Governors Association.

Since then, Romney has sought not only to enhance his hunting resume, but also to shift his rhetoric on the topic.

“I’m not a serious hunter,” Romney said during a debate earlier this year where he made mention of an elk hunting trip in Montana.

That hunting trip took place in 2010, with a supporter, outdoorsman Rob Keck, who is also accompanying Romney to the convention.

Keck, in an interview, said Romney was unable to fell an elk, but did hit the mark while the hunting party was aiming for pheasants.

“He’s a great wing shot,” Keck said.

Keck said the presidential hopeful handled himself admirably “in some really tough county,” and is attempting to gain a better hold on issues important to sportsmen, even if Romney doesn’t fall into that category.

“The fact that he wants to understand it better, appreciate it better ... I think is a step in the right direction,” said Keck, currently the director of conservation for Missouri-based Bass Pro Shops.

The NRA convention kicks off in downtown St. Louis with a star-packed lineup Friday that demonstrates the organization’s vast political influence.

Scheduled speakers at the ticketed-event include Republican Govs. Bobby Jindal of Louisiana and Scott Walker of Wisconsin and four members of Congress. Romney will be joined by one of his remaining rivals for the GOP nomination, Newt Gingrich, as well as former foe Texas Gov. Rick Perry, who may be better remembered by NRA members for putting a bullet in a coyote that threatened his dog. Santorum was scheduled to speak before he suspended his campaign Tuesday.

“This is not going to be an apathetic year for gun owners,” Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s longtime executive vice-president, said in an interview in St. Louis this week. “They clearly understand that their individual right to own a firearm under the constitution is at stake.”

LaPierre did not have overwhelming praise for Romney’s tenure in Massachusetts — “he tried to help people up there and he was supportive of the Second Amendment,” he said — but suggested many NRA members already know how they will vote in November.

“If you talk to most Second Amendment supporters in the country, they’ll tell you, ’Anybody but President Obama,’” LaPierre said.

For Romney — who got a “B” rating from the group while he was governor — the challenge Friday will be to energize NRA members enough that they share that enthusiasm when they go back to their homes states.

Jerry Ardolino, a Texan who is coming to the convention to sell “Original Dirty Harry” shoulder holsters, says he sees Romney as a cross “between Ronald Reagan and a Teddy Roosevelt Republican.”

Ardolino says gun owners care more about Romney’s GOP credentials — “they like that hard-working, American family man” — than whether he knows how to handle a rifle.

“Sportsman has nothing to do with it,” Ardolino said. “Many NRA members that I now aren’t sportsmen at all.”

Congressional hopeful Ann Wagner, who keeps several guns at her Ballwin home, said she is confident that Romney will be able to connect with gun owners at the convention Friday.

The key? Authenticity, she said — which rivals and even some supporters might say is not Romney’s strongest attribute.

“You don’t have to pack a gun to support the Second Amendment,” Wagner said. “You have to be who you are. The key to actually connecting to people is not trying to be something you’re not.”


Text Only
Top Stories
  • 042314 Rec funding Build a Lion_72.jpg Missouri Southern students to vote on new fee, going smoke-free

    Students at Missouri Southern State University will vote next week on whether they support creating a fee that would fund athletic and recreation projects. During the annual student senate-sponsored spring election, students also will be asked whether they support a completely tobacco-free campus.

    April 24, 2014 2 Photos

  • New Kansas gun law draws support, some reservations

    At John’s Sports Center in Pittsburg on Thursday, firearms manager Adam Gariglietti said he supported Gov. Sam Brownback’s decision to sign a bill that will ensure it is legal across the state to openly carry firearms. But, he offered some words of caution. “It’s great that he signed the bill,” Gariglietti said. “But at the same time, common sense goes a long way.”

    April 24, 2014

  • Baxter Springs chili feed to raise money for family of girl facing surgery

    On a Sunday morning in February, 9-year-old Izzy Morris woke up her mother complaining of a headache. Teresa Morris gave her daughter medicine. But an hour later, the headache had worsened. “She was in a lot of pain and started screaming and yelling uncontrollably,” Morris said.

    April 24, 2014

  • Carthage budget committee hears proposal for water, sewer rate increases

    The proposed budget for the Carthage Water & Electric Plant, including increases in water and wastewater rates, dominated discussions Thursday night as the Carthage Budget Ways and Means Committee continued its review of proposed city budgets for the fiscal year starting July 1.

    April 24, 2014

  • 3 To Get Ready

    Three things coming your way in Friday’s Joplin Globe.

    April 24, 2014

  • Severe storms possible this afternoon

    A broken line of thunderstorms will continue to push east across Southeast Kansas and Southwest Missouri this afternoon, bringing a limited tornado risk, and elevated risks for hail and wind damage.

    April 24, 2014

  • Missouri lawmakers file three resolutions calling for impeaching governor

    While Gov. Jay Nixon was in Nevada, Mo., on Wednesday, a Missouri House panel led by Republicans began hearing arguments on three measures calling for impeaching him. Nixon has downplayed the proceedings as a legislative “publicity stunt.” One resolution, sponsored by Rep. Mike Moon, R-Ash Grove, is critical of Nixon for waiting several months to call special elections to fill three vacated House seats.

    April 23, 2014

  • r042314psumove2.jpg SLIDE SHOW: Moving day for biology and chemistry building at Pittsburg State

    They didn’t all go two-by-two, and the person in charge wasn’t named Noah, but nonetheless, critters of all shapes and sizes were on the move Wednesday. Students, volunteers and staff members helped Delia Lister, director of Nature Reach, relocate everything from a pair of prairie dogs to a vocal macaw named Charlie so that Heckert-Wells Hall — the biology and chemistry building where they are housed on the campus of Pittsburg State University — can undergo a $4.4 million transformation in the coming months.

    April 23, 2014 2 Photos 1 Slideshow

  • Respond With Love flower.jpg Joplin pays it forward with flowers; residents asked to return bulbs ‘fostered’ for other towns

    Suzan Morang’s front yard bloomed brightly last year from a colorful array of bulbs that she will happily pass on to someone else this year. Morang, 1207 Xenia Court, is a participant in America Responds With Love, a national nonprofit organization that distributes bulbs to disaster-stricken cities.

    April 23, 2014 1 Photo

  • 3 To Get Ready

    Three things coming your way in Thursday’s Joplin Globe.

    April 23, 2014