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Election 2016

Why Some Gun-Rights Advocates Still Aren’t Sold on Donald Trump

The editor of one influential website says he won't vote for him.

In his bid for the Republican presidential nomination, Donald Trump has bucked party orthodoxy on everything from corporate taxes to nuclear proliferation. But on gun rights, the billionaire businessman sought from the early days of his campaign to establish his conservative credentials. In September, Trump pledged in a policy paper to stand up for the rights of “law-abiding gun owners” and expand concealed carry to all 50 states.

He has continued to speak out about gun rights while on the stump. “We’re going to cherish the Second Amendment,” Trump said during a May 7 campaign stop in Washington state. “We’re going to take care of the Second Amendment.”

But several prominent gun-rights advocates say they aren’t convinced that Trump is one of their own. As evidence, they cite comments he made before this election cycle: He expressed support for an assault-rifles ban, longer waiting periods to purchase a gun, and a ban on gun ownership for members of the terror watch list.

“[Trump] now says he’s a big supporter of people owning guns and supporting Second Amendment,” Larry Pratt, the executive director emeritus of Gun Owners of America, tells The Trace. “In tone that sounds like improvement, but we’re withholding our endorsement until we get the specifics.”

Bob Owens, editor of the website Bearing Arms, made his mind up months ago. In February, Owens declared that a Trump presidency would mean “the death of the Second Amendment.” He has continued to blast Trump on social media.

Owens says in an email that he won’t vote for Trump: “[I will] be leaving the presidential ballot blank, or attempting to find a third party candidate with values I can support.”

Robert Farago is the publisher of The Truth About Guns, another popular gun-rights site. In a post published Monday, he flagged Trump’s comments in an interview with ABC’s “This Week.” The businessman told George Stephanopoulos that he “must stay true to his principles.” Trump said he is a conservative, but continued: “Don’t forget this is called the Republican Party, not the Conservative Party.”

Farago, who mused in early March about whether Trump was “an anti-gun rights dictator,” posed a question to his readers: “As someone who values your Second Amendment protections, does that make you nervous?”

Not everyone in the gun-rights community is as skeptical of Trump’s Second Amendment credentials. On May 8, the Washington Times quoted several gun advocates who said they were ready to declare their support for the businessman. “Surely, since at least the campaign and maybe a little bit before, he’s been very consistent on the gun issue,” said John R. Lott, Jr., a widely discredited gun researcher.

“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, a gun-rights organization.

Gun Owners of America claims to represent 300,000 members, and in September, the controversial group threw its support behind Ted Cruz, an endorsement that the Texas senator flaunted during Republican primary debates.  

Pratt says he needs assurances from Trump before he would consider pledging his support. “I would like to frankly see him say that he’s opposed to any ban on semi-automatic rifles and that he’s at a minimum opposed to any expansion of the background check system,” he says.

The most prominent gun-rights organization in the U.S., the National Rifle Association, hasn’t yet said whether or not it will endorse Trump, though the candidate will be speaking at the NRA-ILA Leadership Forum in two weeks, as part of the gun group’s annual convention.

The event is presented by Bearing Arms.

[Photo: Gage Skidmore]