Mitt Romney on Gun Control

BY Herschel Smith
2 years, 7 months ago

As an editorial remark before beginning our journey through Mitt Romney’s views on the second amendment and gun control, I cannot promise the reader that this article will be easy to read, nor that the various videos and sources won’t be more time consuming than you would otherwise wish.  However, I can promise you that after studying the sources I cite, you will understand enough about Mitt Romney’s views to categorize and understand what he believes and see how his record matches what he believes.

To begin our journey, take a moment and view Romney’s position on the federal assault weapons ban that had a sunset provision at 0001 hours on September 13, 2004.

Take careful note.  Romney is referring to the federal assault weapons ban, not the assault weapons ban he signed into law in Massachusetts.  Along with Obama, he would have signed an extension of this ban.  But this is only the beginning of the maneuvering concerning the portrayal of his views.  The Gun Owners Action League attempts to defend Romney’s having signed the pertinent bill banning assault weapons.

The bill was the greatest victory for gun owners since the passage of the gun control laws in 1998 (Chapter 180 of the Acts of 1998). It was a reform bill totally supported by GOAL. Press and media stories around the country got it completely wrong when claimed the bill was an extension of the “assault weapon” ban that had sunset at the federal level. They could not have been more wrong … [the bill]

Permanently attached the federal language concerning assault weapon exemptions in 18 USC 922 Appendix A to the Massachusetts assault weapons laws. This is the part that the media misrepresented.

In 1998 the Massachusetts legislature passed its own assault weapons ban (MGL Chapter 140, Section 131M). This ban did not rely on the federal language and contained no sunset clause. Knowing that we did not have the votes in 2004 to get rid of the state law, we did not want to loose all of the federal exemptions that were not in the state law so this new bill was amended to include them.

GOAL is dancing on the head of a pin.  For those people who claimed that the particular bill was an “extension of the federal assault weapons ban,” that’s a bit of a misnomer.  I have never made that claim.  Romney signed an assault weapons ban in Massachusetts, and that’s the long and short of it, whether it was precisely an extension of the federal ban or not.  The other crumbs that “fell from the master’s table,” as it were, included a reversal of prior Massachusetts law that banned certain versions of certain pistols that were considered competition weapons (“bull” barrels, modified trigger pull force, etc.).  The concessions given by the Democrats were not very significant, and the assault weapons ban was continued into the foreseeable future for Massachusetts.

What is more troubling, however, is Romney’s defense of the bill.  Assessing a DNC ad criticizing Romney’s flip-flop on assault weapons, Politifact.com weighs in with this citation from 2004.

“It very well may be. In our state what we did is we got both sides of this issue to come together, because we relaxed a number of things, allowing people who hadn’t been able to get weapons in the past to be able to purchase those. … There are hunters in the NRA and the gun owners’ action league (who) backed the legislation that said, ‘Look, let’s protect our citizens from dangerous assault weapons, but let’s also make … regular weapons more available to our citizens.’ And we made a compromise that works.”

Our takeaway is that Romney, at that moment, was arguing that ordinary Americans have the right to bear some types of arms but not assault weapons. He said it “very well may be necessary” to extend the federal assault-weapons ban, while adding that he acted on the state ban because it also included expansions on other types of gun ownership rules.

And then in 2008 they have this from Romney.

“I do support the Second Amendment. And I believe that this is an individual right of citizens and not a right of government. And I hope the Supreme Court reaches that same conclusion.

“I also, like the president, would have signed the assault weapon ban that came to his desk. I said I would have supported that and signed a similar bill in our state. It was a bill worked out, by the way, between pro-gun lobby and anti-gun lobby individuals. Both sides of the issue came together and found a way to provide relaxation in licensing requirements and allow more people to have guns for their own legal purposes. And so we signed that in Massachusetts, and I said I would support that at the federal level, just as the president said he would. It did not pass at the federal level. I do not believe we need new legislation.

“I do not support any new legislation of an assault weapon ban nature, including that against semiautomatic weapons. I instead believe that we have laws in place that if they’re implemented and enforced, will provide the protection and the safety of the American people. But I do not support any new legislation, and I do support the right of individuals to bear arms, whether for hunting purposes or for protection purposes or any other reason. That’s the right that people have.”

[ ... ]

The reality is that Romney’s answer in the debate was unfocused, even self-contradictory. He said that he would have signed a federal assault ban extension — but he added that after it failed on the federal level, he felt he did not believe new legislation was necessary.

Romney is dancing on the head of the same pin that GOAL is on.  His position is logically incoherent because he is attempting to appeal to multiple (and diametrically opposed) constituencies.  In fact, the language he used to defend the bill is as troubling as his having signed it.

“These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense. They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”

Of course, these guns are indeed used for home defense, and modern sporting rifles of the AR design are used for hunting, target shooting and competition in the .223 / 5.56 mm, .243, and .308 / 7.62 mm calibers.  Hear the same sentiments in the video below.

These same words could have been spoken by Dennis Henigan of the Brady Campaign.  If these sentiments seem conflicted between supporting the second amendment and finding room for gun control, Alex Kauffman writing for Conservative Daily News explains why as he analyzes similarities between Romney and his father on three different fronts.

Handgun Ownership: In order to understand Mitt Romney’s actions here, it is necessary to give a little background information about Massachusetts gun control laws: In 1998, Massachusetts established a list of “safety” criteria for handguns sold in the state. The criteria were designed to disqualify most handguns. The Roster is the list of those few makes and models which have passed the testing requirements.

Mitt Romney created two exemptions: One for handguns already licensed in the state prior to October 21, 1998, and one for “match-grade” pistols (high-dollar handguns purpose-built for shooting competitions).

The 1998 exemption is significant when one understand the “preban effect”: Some gun laws are written with an effective date, where firearms sold after the date are subject to the law, while those sold before the date are “grandfathered”. Since there is a limited supply of grandfathered items, the sale price of those items skyrockets.

The net effect of Mitt Romney’s exemptions was this: In Massachusetts, a person now has three options for legally owning a handgun: 1) an expensive pre-1998 handgun; 2) an expensive “safety-approved” handgun; 3) an expensive match-grade handgun.

Compare this to George Romney’s “safety” law- Public Acts 215 and 216 of 1964- which required all handguns to be submitted, within ten days of purchase, for inspection by a law enforcement officer in order to obtain a “safety certificate”. “Safety”, however, was undefined, and determining that a handgun was “safe” was left entirely to the discretion of the officer conducting the inspection. In effect, law enforcement could determine any handgun to be “unsafe”, and confiscate the handgun on the spot, without compensating the buyer for his loss. This provided a disincentive for unpopular persons and minorities to attempt to lawfully buy handguns, knowing their handguns would be confiscated. Likewise, a lower-income person would not want to take the risk of saving money to buy a handgun, only to have their investment confiscated in this manner.

Like father, like son: Both Romneys used the guise of “safety” to deny the right to own a handgun to lower-income persons and “undesireables“.

Next, Kauffman turns to carrying handguns.

Before George Romney became governor, Michigan had created a very restrictive licensing law for carrying a concealed handgun: License applicants had to prove an immediate physical risk to a county license board consisting of representatives of the county prosecuting attorney, county sheriff, and the commissioner of state police. Needless to say, many applications for a carry license were rejected (and this state of affairs led to concealed carry reforms decades later). A concealed carry license was also required if a person wanted to transport a loaded handgun in an automobile, whether or not the handgun was concealed. Open (visible) carry of a handgun was technically legal (outside of an automobile), but in practice, doing it would usually lead to arrest for a “disturbing the peace” type of charge.

So, what was one to do if they wanted to carry a handgun, but weren’t politically connected enough to get a concealed carry license? Answer: Get a private security guard license. Said license authorized a person to carry a handgun openly without fear of arrest, carry a loaded handgun in an automobile, and was issued to virtually anyone who applied.

George Romney, however, made that practice illegal. Public Act 100 of 1966 made it a misdemeanor for a licensed security guard to carry a handgun except during work; Public Act 49 of 1967 made it a felony.

Romney did, however, extend concealed carry privileges in Michigan to licensees from other states- understanding that, in the 1960s, almost all states had similarly-restrictive processes for issuing a license to carry concealed. Romney did little more than extend a privilege given to an “elite few” in his state, to the similar “elite few” of other states.

By comparison, Mitt Romney had little work to do in this regard: By the time he took office, Massachusetts already had a two-tiered carry law: Persons with a “Class B” license could “carry” (transport in a box) an unloaded firearm to and from hunting areas and target ranges; the “elite few” granted a “Class A” license (issued to those who could prove a “need” to local law enforcement, as in Michigan in the 1960s) were entitled to carry a concealed handgun for self-defense.

While running for Governor in 2002, Mitt Romney infamously said: “I won’t chip away at them; I believe they protect us and provide for our safety.” And he didn’t.

Like father, like son: Both Romneys supported restricting the carrying of handguns for self-defense to an “elite few” of police and politically-connected businessmen.

Kauffman’s discussion on Romney and assault weapons is a recapitulation of what we already know.  Summarizing his analysis, Kaufmann says:

It is fair to say that Mitt is an elitist on the subject of firearms. His record demonstrates a WASP-y, 1950′s view of gun ownership: “Decent” people own guns for hunting and sporting, and protecting their homes. “Decent” people don’t “need” to carry guns for self-defense. Preventing people who aren’t “decent” from owning guns is a good idea.

I have spent some time studying the firearms laws in Massachusetts, and find them to be some of the most draconian of any state.  There are also odd and inexplicable statutes such as this one:

Such club shall not permit shooting at targets that depict human figures, human effigies, human silhouettes or any human images thereof, except by public safety personnel performing in line with their official duties.

Presumably this is part of that elitist culture in Massachusetts, where LEOs can train on silhouettes but other shooters can’t.  My state, on the other hand, sees the common sense in requiring CHP holders to be qualified on their weapons.  I filled out paperwork for the County Sheriff attesting that I had been tested placing so many rounds on target at 7 yards using silhouettes.  It’s better, in the state’s opinion, if I am going to carry a weapon, to ensure to the extent possible that my rounds impact their intended target if I ever have to use my weapon.

As best as publicly contradictory views can be assessed and summarized, Romney wants firearms only in the hands of sportsmen who hunt, and then only transported to hunting lands in certain ways (I would point out that the second amendment has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with hunting).  Only LEOs have the right to carry, along with a certain small number of other “approved” people.  You have the right to own a handgun in your own home, but only under certain circumstances, and only if you can afford the high price.  If you want to carry that weapon outside the home, you’re a creepy person, perhaps even poorly bred, uncouth and ill mannered.  You’re even more creepy if you want one of those awful assault weapons.  You just want to kill lots of people.

In a nutshell, Romney is a consistent Northeastern elitist concerning his views on the second amendment, smokescreens notwithstanding.  He and the Brady campaign got along just fine while he was governor of Massachusetts.




You are currently reading "Mitt Romney on Gun Control", entry #8018 on The Captain's Journal.

This article is filed under the category(s) Firearms,Guns,Mitt Romney,Second Amendment and was published December 18th, 2011 by Herschel Smith.

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