The National Rifle Association is willing to pardon a repentant sinner, but its hardline rival, Gun Owners of America, is not.

GOA, which has endorsed Senator Ted Cruz in the Republican primary, has launched a broadside attack against rival John Kasich, the Ohio governor, for voting 22 years ago to approve an assault weapons ban — evidence, the GOA says in a new post on its website, that Kasich is anti-gun. At the time, in 1994, the NRA agreed, bestowing on Kasich its worst rating: an F.

Since then, Kasich has worked his way back into the NRA’s good graces, consistently approving legislation perceived as expanding the rights of gun owners. His NRA grade is now an A.

GOA, however, is not inclined toward absolution.

“The NRA is more forgiving than we are,” Larry Pratt, GOA’s executive director, tells The Trace. “There’s a Gun Owners of America for a reason. We go our own way.”

GOA prides itself on being “the only no-compromise gun lobby in Washington.” The group boasts 300,000 members, and has ties to white supremacists and the country’s militia movement. In 2013, in the wake of the mass shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School, it helped kill the Manchin-Toomey proposal to expand background checks by spreading literature that claimed, erroneously, that the legislation would create a federal firearms registry. In September, shortly after GOA backed Cruz for president, the Texas Senator took the unprecedented step of celebrating the endorsement of the group during a nationally televised debate. It was a canny way for him to distinguish himself from the rest of the field, all of whom had already pledged their unflinching fealty to the Second Amendment.

Though small, GOA has an outsized influence among Second Amendment purists who think the NRA is too moderate. Its clout could prove important to voters in conservative-leaning states like Utah and Arizona, which are holding elections today. Last summer, the magazine Guns & Ammo ranked the gun-friendliest states in the country, and placed both in the top five.

While seeking to earn the Republican nomination for president, Kasich has repeatedly renounced his vote in favor of the assault weapons ban. In December, he told the De Moines Register, “I don’t believe the law had any real effect,” adding, “I don’t want to communicate to people that I want to take their guns away.” As governor of Ohio, Kasich has signed every pro-gun bill passed by the state’s general assembly.

“None of that changes my opinion,” says Pratt, who has a reputation for verbally flogging those who he deems as not sufficiently committed to the cause of total gun freedom. “Is Kasich saying the right things now because he got whupped in the past? Seems like it. He’s such a sad sack. He should run as a Democrat.”

The NRA has a policy of staying out of presidential primaries. “Unlike other groups, we don’t play those games,” David Keene, the organization’s former president, recently told The Trace.

Pratt says the NRA can be too soft. On its Kasich page, GOA calls the Ohio governor an anti-gun “wolf in sheep’s clothing” and a RINO — a “Republican in name only.” It accuses him of working with President Clinton “to pass 90 percent” of his “anti-gun agenda,” though how the group arrived at such a specific quantity is unclear. While Kasich did, at one point, vote to expand background checks to gun shows, in 1993 he opposed the Brady Bill, which established the current background check system.

Over the weekend, Kasich made comments on “Face the Nation” that, according to Pratt, further substantiated GOA’s concerns. During the interview, the governor said, were he elected president, he would “think” about Merrick Garland as a possible candidate to fill the empty seat on the Supreme Court. Garland, of course, is President Obama’s nominee, and despite evidence to the contrary, conservative media, along with the NRA, has labeled him an anti-Second Amendment judicial activist. Kasich quickly walked back his remarks, saying he was only trying to be “polite.” But Pratt didn’t buy it.

“We’re involved in a desperate battle to keep Judge Garland from getting confirmed,” he says, adding, “Right back to your F, baby.”

So far, the NRA has remained silent about Kasich’s comments, and has not lowered his grade.

[Photo: Flickr user Gage Skidmore]