This year’s NRA-ILA Leadership Forum brought members attending the NRA Annual Meetings & Exhibits in Nashville, Tenn., one of the most distinguished casts ever. And for good reason: After six years of Barack Obama in the White House, the desire by NRA members to replace him with a pro-gun president in next fall’s elections ranks high on their list of priorities.
Eleven Republican presidential hopefuls addressed those gathered at the Leadership Forum on April 10 at the Music City Center, all extolling their pro-Second Amendment records while also touting their other qualifications. Those speaking included Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum, former Texas Gov. Rick Perry, former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush, Dr. Ben Carson, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, businessman Donald Trump and U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz.
NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre pointed out exactly why ensuring a pro-gun White House is so important in 2016: the dangerous possibility of following President Obama with a Hillary Clinton presidency.
“If that happens, it would be catastrophic for this country,” LaPierre said. “Then it would not be a knock at our door. It would be a pounding at the door of gun owners."”Then it would not be a knock at our door. It would be a pounding at the door of gun owners.”
LaPierre also questioned whether Clinton is really the best candidate the Democratic party has to offer in 2016, given her long history of scandal and cover-ups.
“Whitewater-gate, Cattle-gate, Gennifer Flowers-gate, Nanny-gate, Lincoln Bedroom-gate, Travel-gate, Trooper-gate, File-gate, Paula Jones-gate, Vince Foster-gate, Helicopter-gate, White House Coffee-gate, Web Hubbell Hush Money-gate, Pardon-gate, Illegal Gift-gate, Monica-gate, Benghazi-gate, Email-gate, Wiped Server-gate,” LaPierre said to a roar of applause. “Hillary Clinton has more ‘gates’ than a South Texas cattle ranch, and Americans know it!”
Chris W. Cox, executive director of NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, also voiced concerns about a possible Clinton presidency, pointing out that if she wins next year and stays in the White House for two terms, the damage could be devastating.
“Let’s resolve to do everything we can to elect a pro-gun president next year,” Cox said. “Because you know what we’ll get if we don’t? Hillary Clinton as president of the United States until 2025! Think about that.”
The forum gave each of the presidential aspirants an opportunity to make his case directly to the NRA members gathered. (Note that we have presented them here in the order in which they spoke, and are in no way endorsing any one over the others.)
“When he [President Barack Obama] tried to ban green-tip ammo, we rose up and we stopped him,” said Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, who has been a featured speaker at the Annual Meetings several times. “I guess that’s why he complains about how we cling to our guns and religion. As the governor of the great state of Louisiana, I’m proud to report we’ve got plenty of guns and religion both—but we’re not bitter about any of it.”
Jindal also spoke of his concern of what eight years of a Hillary Clinton presidency could do to our country.
“I understand Hillary is about to announce her candidacy this weekend,” he said. “I wonder what her slogan’s going to be. I suspect it won’t be, ‘Four More Years.’ But it may be, ‘What Difference Does It Make?’”
Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker told those in attendance that Obama’s dismal record of battling against the Constitution rather than supporting it proves the necessity of replacing him with someone who respects our liberties.
“Sadly, I look to Washington and I see the occupant of the White House right now who seems to forget that when the president is sworn in, he takes an oath of office to preserve, to protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” he said. “Well Mr. President, last time I checked, the Second Amendment is part of that Constitution.”
Walker also said he will put his record of protecting the Second Amendment right to keep and bear arms up against any other candidate’s.
“I’m proud of my A-plus ranking as a governor,” Walker said. “I’m proud of that, even though some on the Left might say it’s a scarlet letter. I consider it a badge of honor. And I do it not just for the obvious reasons, but I do it because, if you think about it, I’m proud to stand up for law-abiding citizens and your right to possess firearms.”“Freedom is under assault ... by the Left in America. Just like the Second Amendment has been under assault by the Left. Just like every other freedom that we have.”
Former U.S. Sen. Rick Santorum pointed out that the United States has hit trying times lately, requiring the very best effort of all who love freedom.
“We are at a time in America where we need people to be committed, to understand that this country is in great jeopardy,” he said. “Freedom is under assault ... by the Left in America. Just like the Second Amendment has been under assault by the Left. Just like every other freedom that we have.”
Santorum added that only by protecting that Second Amendment can Americans expect to enjoy any of our freedoms.
“Government is trying to determine and tell you how you are supposed to run your life,” Santorum said. “This is about freedom. The Second Amendment is there to protect the First Amendment. The Second Amendment is there to protect all our freedoms.”
Former Texas Gov. Rick Perry pointed out that citizens of the Lone Star State have a long history of appreciating freedom.
“In 1835, the Mexican government told a few freedom fighters in Gonzalez that they wanted their cannon back,” he said. “And the Texans had a simple message for them: ‘Come and take it.’ So today, when Washington asks Texans to give up their freedoms in exchange for federal money, we’ve got the same message: ‘Come and take it.’”
Perry said he is proud to be not only a Life member of the NRA, but also a lifetime defender of the Second Amendment.
“We happen to believe that human liberty is the gift of God, and the guarantee of our Constitution,” Perry said. “We do not believe the Constitution is a cafeteria plan. You don’t just get to pick and choose the rights you like and discard the ones that are inconvenient to your political agenda. Every word in the Bill of Rights is sacred. And that includes the First, the Second and the 10th Amendment.”
Former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush said having a president who doesn’t support and protect the Second Amendment leads to wrong priorities.
“It’s almost like the Obama administration doesn’t realize that the best form of national defense is a nation of free men and women exercising their Second Amendment rights,” Bush said. “I have a message for the Obama administration. Why don’t you focus more on keeping weapons out of the hands of Islamic terrorists and less on keeping weapons out of the hands of law-abiding Americans?”
Bush also highlighted his long list of Second Amendment accomplishments as governor of the Sunshine State.
“I’ve been a Life member of the NRA since 1986,” he said. “I’ve been in the trenches with you, and when I was governor we were passing laws and creating protections for gun owners that set the bar for other states to follow. I will match my record against anyone else’s when it comes to support and defense of the Second Amendment.”
Dr. Ben Carson, one of the few non-politicians speaking at the gathering, praised those in attendance for their support of American freedom.
“Thank you for your great patriotism and for being people who really love this nation very much, as I do,” he said.
Carson also clarified his position on the Second Amendment-protected right to keep and bear arms.
“Just for the record, let me make it extremely clear that I am extremely pro-Second Amendment,” Carson said. “There’s no question about it. And I would never allow for anybody to tamper with that right because it is so important.”U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida said Americans face more threats now than ever before, so they need to be able to freely practice their right of self-defense.
U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida, who announced his official candidacy for president shortly after the Annual Meetings, said Americans face more threats now than ever before, so they need to be able to freely practice their right of self-defense.
“This basic right to self-defense has not evolved,” he said. “But the threats that require us to exercise it certainly have. Today we face shifting perils of domestic crime. We face the evolving threat of radical Islam. And we face the occasional acts of cruelty that defy categorization.”
Rubio directly took on those who would say the Second Amendment shouldn’t protect ownership of AR-15s or other more modern firearms.
“The genius of our founders doesn’t have an expiration date,” Rubio told the crowd. “No politician would argue our First Amendment right to free speech is less valuable in the digital age than it was in the days of pen and paper. And therefore I believe it is equally outrageous for anyone to argue that our Second Amendment right is less valuable today.”
Former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee spoke of the disconnect between career politicians inside the Beltway and the many Americans who live in so-called “flyover country.”
“I grew up in an area, like so many of you did, where the ‘gun nuts’ are not the people who own guns,” he said. “The ‘gun nuts’ are the people who are afraid of firearms and think the whole country would be safer if we would take them away from law-abiding people and create a gun-free zone where we’re all sitting ducks.”
Huckabee also explained the importance of armed self-defense, and had a message for anyone breaking into his home to harm his family.
“I’m going to tell you without apology, that if someone were to threaten my family, I will sacrifice my life to protect them,” he said. “And if necessary I will sacrifice the life of the one who would threaten them. And if they try to hurt my family, I will tell you this: If a gun will work better than my bare hands, or a knife, or a baseball bat, or polite conversation, then I will use the gun. Any questions?”
South Carolina U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham spoke of four special guns in his collection, including an AR-15 engraved with the seal of his Army Reserve unit (Task Force 435).
“You may not like the fact that I have these guns,” he said. “You may disagree with the fact that I have these guns. But all I can say to you is I have a right to own these guns.”
Graham touted his Second Amendment credentials in the Senate, pointing toward numerous victories over Obama’s gun-ban plans. “I’m going to tell you without apology, that if someone were to threaten my family, I will sacrifice my life to protect them.”
“Many of you have probably lost sleep over the last six years,” he said. “But thanks to the NRA—Republicans and Democrats—we beat back I think the most aggressive gun-control agenda in the history of the country. And I’m proud to say that without the NRA we would not be able to do it. You really do matter, folks.”
Presidential hopeful Donald Trump, another non-politician on the speaking schedule, expressed pride to be speaking to National Rifle Association members.
“I love the NRA,” he said. “I love the Second Amendment.”
Trump also said nobody should have any doubt about his stance on gun rights, clarifying that in no uncertain terms.
“I promise you one thing,” Trump said. “If I run for president, and if I win, the Second Amendment will be totally protected. That I can tell you.”
Texas U.S. Sen. Ted Cruz, the only speaker on the agenda who had announced his candidacy for president before the Annual Meetings, pointed out Democrat candidate Clinton’s dishonesty in recently deleting important official emails.
“Is this the Ready For Hillary gathering?” he quipped when taking the stage. “We have good news: Ready For Hillary had their first hire—the head of email security. So it’s very, very good: Lois Lerner now has a job.”
Cruz went on to give details of his Second Amendment credentials, and said NRA members give him hope for the future of our country.
“We are seeing an unprecedented threat to our liberties each and every day from the federal government,” he said. “And yet I want to tell you: I am inspired, I am optimistic, I am hopeful and I want to tell you why. It’s because of each and every one of you. NRA—the men and women here—are men and women of action. You are leaders who stand and fight for your constitutional rights.”
The speeches by such a star-studded cast of presidential hopefuls electrified and energized the packed house of NRA members. There’s little doubt the presidential campaign in 2016 is going to be a dogfight, like many have before. And it’s likely the general election will pit one candidate who supports the Second Amendment against another who does not.
Through it all, it’s important that we keep our eye on the prize—making sure the next occupant of the White House respects us and respects our right to keep and bear arms.