This year's election is going to define the future of our freedom, perhaps more than any other in our history. For gun owners, there are a number of areas crucial to the survival of our Second Amendment rights. That's why I took the time to visit with Mitt Romney, the Republican presidential nominee, to find out precisely where he stands on the issues of concern to gun owners.
Chris W. Cox: First, let me start with the most basic question of all. In the 2008 case District of Columbia v. Heller, and in the 2010 case McDonald v. City of Chicago, the U.S. Supreme Court—by a 5-4 majority—held that the Second Amendment guarantees the fundamental, individual right of all law-abiding Americans to keep and bear arms. Do you agree that the Second Amendment protects a fundamental, individual right to own and use firearms for all lawful purposes?
Governor Mitt Romney: Absolutely, and I was pleased when the Court finally rendered a clear and concise decision on this critical issue. The Second Amendment is essential to our free society. I strongly support the right of all law-abiding Americans to exercise their constitutionally protected right to own firearms and to use them for lawful purposes, including self-defense; the protection of family and property; hunting and recreational shooting.
Cox: Obviously, America's 100 million gun owners are very concerned that their Second Amendment rights hang in the balance at the U.S. Supreme Court by just one vote. President Obama's two nominees to the Court so far—Justices Sotomayor and Kagan—have a history of anti-gun opinions and activism. And some have predicted that if Barack Obama is re-elected, he may have the opportunity to nominate several more justices to the Court. As president, if you had the opportunity, what type of individuals would you nominate to the Supreme Court? And which of the justices currently serving on the Court would you consider to be the best models of your judicial philosophy?
Gov. Romney: Chris, I believe the next president could indeed have the opportunity to shape the Court for decades to come, and that's a key reason why the tens of millions of Americans who support the NRA should support my candidacy. My view of the Constitution is straightforward: Its words have meaning. The founders adopted a written constitution for a reason. They intended to limit the powers of government. The job of a judge is to enforce the Constitution’s restraints on government and, where the Constitution does not speak, to leave the governance of the nation to its elected representatives. I believe in the rule of law, and I will appoint wise, experienced and restrained judges who take seriously their oath to discharge their duties impartially in accordance with our Constitution and our laws—not their personal policy preferences.
Cox: Let's do a quick rundown of where you stand on some gun laws our opponents have been pushing for many years. Do you support additional federal regulation of gun shows?
Gov. Romney: I do not support further federal regulation of gun shows. There are tens of thousands of gun shows in local communities every year. Gun shows are not only an opportunity for millions of law-abiding Americans to exercise their Second Amendment rights, but also their First Amendment right to assemble and speak. Anti-gun organizations have perpetrated this myth that somehow laws don’t apply at gun shows and that’s nonsense. All sales from federal firearm licensees are regulated no matter where they take place, and private sales are regulated at gun shows just as they are anywhere else.
Cox: Gun owner licensing?
Gov. Romney: That's another solution in search of a problem. I do support the current National Instant Check System, because it simply verifies that a gun buyer is not disqualified under current law. Adding an arbitrary, costly and bureaucratic licensing scheme on top of that would be wasteful and wrong.
Cox: Federal gun registration?
Gov. Romney: Like the majority of Americans, I do not believe that the United States needs more laws that restrict Second Amendment rights. I also recognize the extraordinary number of jobs and other economic benefits that are produced by hunting, recreational shooting, and the firearms and ammunition industry, not the least of which is to fund wildlife and habitat conservation. But I do not support adding more laws and regulations that would burden law-abiding citizens and would be ignored by criminals.
Cox: The United Nations has been conducting serious negotiations on a treaty that would likely impose significant regulation of private gun ownership in the United States. The Bush administration strongly opposed this effort as an infringement on American sovereignty. How would a Romney administration approach this issue?
Gov. Romney: I am troubled by this. In foreign policy, I am guided by one overwhelming conviction: This century must be an American Century. In an American Century, America has the strongest economy and the strongest military in the world. In an American Century, America leads the free world. God did not create this country to be a nation of followers. America must lead the world, or someone else will. Without American leadership, without the clarity of American purpose and resolve, the world becomes a far more dangerous place. Let me make this very clear. As president of the United States, I will devote myself to those ideas, and I will never, ever apologize for America. So by the same token, I will never support or enforce any treaty that attempts to restrict our fundamental rights, or tries to "harmonize" our constitutional rights with all of the less-free nations in the world.
Cox: Would you support legislation to provide national reciprocity for Right-to- Carry permit holders so that they can protect themselves when they're traveling outside their home states?
Gov. Romney: Absolutely. Fundamental rights don't disappear when we cross state borders, and self-defense is a fundamental right.
Cox: Would you support the reimposition of a federal ban on semiautomatic firearms incorrectly called "assault weapons?"
Gov. Romney: No. I do not support any additional laws to restrict the right to keep and bear arms.
Cox: As governor, you signed a major bill reforming Massachusetts' gun registration and licensing laws. Some in the media and elsewhere claim this bill was a reauthorization of the semi-auto ban in Massachusetts. What’s your response?
Gov. Romney: As governor of Massachusetts, I was proud to support legislation that expanded the rights of gun owners. I worked hard to advance the ability of law-abiding citizens to purchase and own firearms, while opposing liberal desires to create bureaucracy intended to burden gun owners and sportsmen. As governor, I also designated May 7 as "The Right to Bear Arms Day" in Massachusetts to honor law-abiding citizens and their right to "use firearms in defense of their families, persons and property for all lawful purposes, including common defense." The bill you mention was supported by your state NRA affiliate because it expanded the rights of Massachusetts gun owners. The NRA said at the time that it included "the greatest set of firearm law reforms since the passage of the Commonwealth's worst-in-the-nation gun laws … a breath of fresh air for law-abiding gun owners." While not perfect legislation, I agreed with that description of the bill, and that's why I signed it into law.
Cox: America has a proud hunting tradition. One of the biggest problems facing hunters is finding land where they can hunt. The NRA has worked for a number of years to open as much federal land to hunting as possible. What would you do as president to address this issue?
Gov. Romney: I will work with the Congress to pass legislation to make clear that public lands should be open for hunting unless there's a legitimate reason otherwise. I also plan to address the regulatory aspect of this issue by nominating people to key positions who support our proud hunting heritage, and understand that hunters are the original conservationists.
Cox: Over the past few years, drug cartel violence along the Southwest border has created significant problems for law enforcement, and has been used by anti-gun politicians in both the U.S. and Mexico as an excuse to call for more American gun laws. How would you deal with the violence in Mexico and its impact in the U.S.?
Gov. Romney: Our border with Mexico remains an ongoing problem, posing serious questions for America’s future. Will drug cartels dominate Mexico's border region, with greater and greater violence spilling over into our country? And will drug smugglers and terrorists increasingly make their way to our side of the border? These are only some of the very real dangers that America faces, if we continue the policies of the past three years. But it doesn't have to be this way. We are a democracy. We decide. Your members decide. America’s 100 million gun owners decide. I will offer a very different vision of America’s role in the world and of America's destiny than what we've seen during the past three and a half years.
Cox: One part of the current administration’s policies to deal with Mexican crime was the "Fast & Furious" program. This has turned into a serious scandal. As president, how would you respond if this occurred during your administration? And how would you prevent this kind of disaster in the future?
Gov. Romney: I don't want to wait until after the election. This problem needs to be addressed right now. I support the language in the current Justice Department appropriations bill to absolutely prohibit this kind of operation. And unlike Barack Obama, I would not support repealing that language in the future.
Cox: Attorney General Holder has steadfastly refused to cooperate with the congressional investigation into "Fast & Furious." Do you believe Holder should resign or be fired due to his actions?
Gov. Romney: If there is the remotest possibility that our nation's top prosecutors have suppressed evidence that they supported this outrageous operation, then someone has to be held accountable. And I believe that's where this is headed, so yes, I believe it's time for Eric Holder to go.
Cox: The NRA has always said that passing more gun control laws will not reduce violent crime. We think the solution to this issue is prosecuting criminals who illegally misuse firearms. But in the Obama administration, prosecutions of criminals who misuse firearms are at the lowest point in the last 10 years. What do you believe is the most effective method for reducing crime?
Gov. Romney: My position is simple: I will enforce the laws already on the books and punish, to the fullest extent of the law, criminals who misuse firearms to commit crimes. I will also provide law enforcement with the proper and effective resources they need to deter, apprehend and punish criminals.
Cox: One of the key areas where presidents can affect the Second Amendment rights of Americans is in the people they appoint to key positions. As president, will you appoint people who agree with your position that the Second Amendment guarantees a fundamental, individual right, particularly to the office of attorney general and other Cabinet level appointments, as well as positions that directly impact gun owners such as the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives?
Gov. Romney: That's a basic starting point, yes. If elected president, yes, I will nominate people who agree that the Second Amendment guarantees a fundamental, individual right and are prepared to implement them throughout government, from the Cabinet level on down.
Cox: Aside from the specific issues, is there anything you'd like to tell our members about the stakes in this election for gun owners and hunters?
Gov. Romney: I do. I believe we are an exceptional country with a unique destiny and role in the world. We are exceptional because we are a nation founded on a precious idea that was born in the American Revolution. We are a people who threw off the yoke of tyranny and established a government of the people, by the people and for the people. We are a people who, in the language of our Declaration of Independence, hold certain truths to be self evident; namely, that all men are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights. That sets us apart from the rest of the world, and we don't need to apologize for it. We should be proud of it. I hope to serve as your president to continue in that proud tradition. We need a president who will stand up for the rights of those who simply want to protect themselves, their families and their homes and who want to continue America's rich hunting heritage. President Obama has not, but I will. The choice is clear. I hope your members will support me, and I respectfully ask for their votes on Election Day.
Cox: Governor Romney, thank you for your time and for your support of gun owners' rights. Good luck in November.
This article first appeared in multiple NRA magazine publications.
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Chris W. Cox is the Executive Director of the National Rifle Association Institute for Legislative Action (NRA-ILA) and serves as the organization's chief lobbyist.