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National Journal: Q+A With Chris Cox

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

This Article Appeared in the Wednesday Q & A Section of the National Journal

Chris Cox is the chief lob­by­ist and polit­ic­al strategist for the Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation, which spent more than any oth­er out­side group sup­port­ing Don­ald Trump in the pres­id­en­tial elec­tion. The NRA shelled out more than $50 mil­lion in the 2016 cycle across pres­id­en­tial, Sen­ate, and con­gres­sion­al races. Cox spoke with An­drea Drusch about what gun-rights ad­voc­ates have got­ten for their money, and what they hope to achieve in a GOP-con­trolled Wash­ing­ton.

After eight years with a Demo­crat in the White House, what changes have gun-rights ad­voc­ates already seen since Trump took of­fice?

You’ve changed the fun­da­ment­al ap­proach to the Second Amend­ment at the top with the pres­id­ent. … Pres­id­ent Trump is an un­apo­lo­get­ic sup­port­er, and the first sit­ting pres­id­ent since Re­agan in 1983 to ad­dress our an­nu­al meet­ing. If you look at his Cab­in­et, from Jeff Ses­sions to Ry­an Zinke, you see an all-star team of in­di­vidu­als who sup­port in­di­vidu­al free­dom and the Second Amend­ment. If you look at his le­gis­lat­ive ac­tion thus far, he signed a Con­gres­sion­al Re­view Act deal­ing with one of Obama’s last-minute at­tempts to un­der­mine the Second Amend­ment with re­gards to the So­cial Se­cur­ity Ad­min­is­tra­tion. On [In­teri­or] Sec­ret­ary Zinke’s first day in of­fice, he signed an or­der re­peal­ing a lead ammo ban on cer­tain fed­er­al lands that Obama put in on his way out the door.

What is the NRA’s le­gis­lat­ive agenda for a GOP-con­trolled Con­gress? And is there a rush to get things done with the House po­ten­tially in play in 2018?

Right-to-carry re­cipro­city re­mains our No.1 le­gis­lat­ive pri­or­ity. … [House and Sen­ate bills] have been in­tro­duced and re­ferred to com­mit­tee; we’re in the pro­cess of build­ing sup­port and co­spon­sors. … We’re also work­ing to re­form the law as it relates to sup­press­ors [also known as si­len­cers]. We do a lot of work in the ap­pro­pri­ations area, par­tic­u­larly in re­gards to fund­ing re­stric­tions, mak­ing sure tax dol­lars aren’t used to un­der­mine law­ful gun own­er­ship.

Speak­ing of polit­ics, two Demo­crats run­ning for gov­ernor in Vir­gin­ia right now are brag­ging about their op­pos­i­tion from the NRA. Has this is­sue changed in swing states?

Our data shows [sup­port for] the goals of the NRA, the rights of law-abid­ing people to keep and own fire­arms for self-de­fense, from a voter’s stand­point, is over­whelm­ing. That’s why you have every­one from Barack Obama to Mi­chael Bloomberg to Chuck Schu­mer say­ing they sup­port the Second Amend­ment, even though they work tire­lessly to un­der­mine it. … What we’ve shown, in­clud­ing in 2016, is that gun own­ers across the coun­try make the dif­fer­ence, not just in state and loc­al elec­tions but statewide elec­tions, fed­er­al elec­tions, and ul­ti­mately the pres­id­en­tial race. With re­gards to those two par­tic­u­lar can­did­ates … they’ll have to ex­plain those po­s­i­tions to the voters.

How does a Re­pub­lic­an in the White House im­pact this is­sue in the courts?

Once [Su­preme Court Justice Ant­on­in] Scalia passed away, the stakes of the elec­tion from a Second Amend­ment stand­point be­came even lar­ger, be­cause we no longer had a one-vote ma­jor­ity for the ba­sic right to own a fire­arm. So with Justice [Neil] Gor­such’s suc­cess­ful con­firm­a­tion, the elec­tion wasn’t about four or eight years, but about 30 or 40 years. One of the next ques­tions will be, does your right to de­fend your­self end at your door­step? Is it more than just keep­ing arms? Is there a re­cog­ni­tion to bear arms out­side your home? … There’s also some re­cent cases out of the Mary­land 4th Cir­cuit with re­gards to wheth­er or not the gov­ern­ment can ban com­monly-owned rifles.

How does At­tor­ney Gen­er­al Ses­sions im­pact gun rights?

One of the fun­da­ment­al ar­gu­ments over gun con­trol is where the fo­cus should be. Should it be on pro­sec­ut­ing crim­in­als who mis­use fire­arms, or should the fo­cus be on passing more laws that re­strict law-abid­ing ac­cess to fire­arms? … Un­der the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion, Chica­go ranked either dead last or next to last in the fed­er­al pro­sec­u­tion of vi­ol­a­tion of fed­er­al laws re­gard­ing il­leg­al use of fire­arms. Get­ting the gov­ern­ment back in­to pro­sec­ut­ing crim­in­als … is go­ing to be im­port­ant, not only to law-abid­ing gun own­ers, but also to com­munit­ies who want to see something done about crime in their areas.

What does the polit­ic­al land­scape look like for the NRA over the next two years?

In 2018, we’ll be in­volved in more than just the Sen­ate and gov­ernor’s elec­tions, but lit­er­ally thou­sands of state le­gis­lat­ive races. It’s an on­go­ing, year-round op­er­a­tion for the Na­tion­al Rifle As­so­ci­ation. … We do a lot of postelec­tion data work to see where we were suc­cess­ful and where there’s room for im­prove­ment. … We’re con­tinu­ing to do that in pre­par­a­tion not only for 2018 but these 2017 off-year elec­tions. We’re heav­ily in­volved right now in spe­cial elec­tions in Geor­gia and … South Car­o­lina.

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Established in 1975, the Institute for Legislative Action (ILA) is the "lobbying" arm of the National Rifle Association of America. ILA is responsible for preserving the right of all law-abiding individuals in the legislative, political, and legal arenas, to purchase, possess and use firearms for legitimate purposes as guaranteed by the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.