By Dave Workman
President Barack Obama has come out of the closet on guns, acknowledging during his second debate with Republican challenger Mitt Romney that he would like to see “if we can get an assault weapons ban reintroduced.”
Almost immediately, chat groups and gun rights forums began heating up almost as quickly as moderator Candy Crowley steered the conversation away from Operation Fast and Furious, which Romney interjected into the debate. He noted that it was “the greatest failure we’ve had with regards to gun violence.”
Obama didn’t have to explain how this operation happened on his watch, or why he extended executive privilege to thousands of subpoenaed documents, even though Romney specifically raised the issue.
“This was a program of the government,” Romney said about Fast and Furious. “For what purpose it was put in place, I can’t imagine. But it’s one of the greatest tragedies related to violence in our society which has occurred during this administration, which I think the American people would like to understand fully. It’s been investigated to a degree, but the administration has, has carried out executive privilege to prevent all the information from coming out. I’d like to understand who it was that did this, what the idea was behind it, why it led to the violence; thousands of guns going to Mexican drug lords.”
But Crowley shifted the focus to an oft-maligned gun law Romney signed while he was Massachusetts governor, thus deflecting the conversation away from the scandal. However, according to the official website of the Massachusetts Gun Owners Action League, many gun rights activists may be off-base about what Romney did.
There has been some suggestion that Crowley, who came under criticism for what appeared to be a rather partisan treatment of the debate, deliberately changed the focus to a subject that is widely known to be Romney’s supposed weakness with the firearms community.
On some forums, the partisanship of gun owners was striking. Apparent Obama voters panned Romney for having signed a “semi-auto ban” while possible Romney backers tried to keep focused on Obama’s desire to renew the ban, which expired in 2004.
According to GOAL, however, Romney critics may be mistaken.
GOAL’s website says the legislation signed by Romney in 2004 actually watered down the 1998 ban enacted under a previous administration.
“The bill was the greatest victory for gun owners since the passage of the gun control laws in 1998,” the GOAL explanation maintains. “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. Unfortunately for the Governor (Romney), someone had also wrongly briefed him about the bill. As a result the Lt. Governor and the Governor made statements at the bill signing ceremony that angered GOAL members.”
Additionally, GOAL’s website reports that, “During the Romney Administration, no anti-Second Amendment or anti-sportsmen legislation made its way to the Governor’s desk.
“Governor Romney did sign five pro-Second Amendment/pro-sportsmen bills into law,” according to GOAL. “His administration also worked with Gun Owners’ Action League and the Democratic leadership of the Massachusetts House and Senate to remove any anti-Second Amendment language from the Gang Violence bill passed in 2006…”
GOAL goes into considerable detail to explain what “really happened” under Romney.
“The following is what the bill actually did,” says GOAL.
“Established the Firearm License Review Board (FLRB). The 1998 law created new criteria for disqualifying citizens for firearms licenses that included any misdemeanor punishable by more than two years even if no jail time was ever served.
For instance, a first conviction of operating a motor vehicle under the influence would result in the loss of your ability to own a handgun for life and long guns for a minimum of five years. This Board is now able to review cases under limited circumstances to restore licenses to individuals who meet certain criteria.
“Mandated that a minimum of $50,000 of the licensing fees be used for the operation of the FLRB so that the Board would not cease operating under budget cuts.
“Extended the term of the state’s firearm licenses from 4 years to 6 years.
“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 lose all of the federal exemptions that were not in the state law so this new bill was amended to include them.
“Re-instated a 90 day grace period for citizens who were trying to renew their firearm license. Over the past years, the government agencies in charge had fallen months behind in renewing licenses. At one point it was taking upwards of a year to renew a license. Under Massachusetts law, a citizen cannot have a firearm or ammunition in their home with an expired license.
“Mandated that law enforcement must issue a receipt for firearms that are confiscated due to an expired license. Prior to this law, no receipts were given for property confiscated which led to accusations of stolen or lost firearms after they were confiscated by police.
“Gave free license renewal for law enforcement officers who applied through their employing agency.
“Changed the size and style of a firearm license to that of a driver’s license so that it would fit in a normal wallet. The original license was 3” x 4”.
“Created stiffer penalties for armed home invaders.”
GOAL Communications Manager Mike Sweeney confirmed to TGM that this information has been available for quite some time on the website. He said Romney was faced with an anti-gun legislature that would have saddled Massachusetts gun owners with considerably worse regulations, and the bill Romney signed actually benefitted those gun owners.
The debate came on the heels of an announcement by the Romney campaign that several prominent outdoorsmen and women, and firearms industry leaders, had created Sportsmen for Romney. It was an 11th-hour political bid, but names on the advisory panel read like a Who’s Who in the firearms community.
Sportsmen for Romney’s National Advisory Board includes Bob Nosler, CEO at Nosler, Inc., Coni Brooks with Barnes Bullets, B.A.S.S. founder Ray Scott, William “Bill” McGrath with Safari Club International, Rob Keck and others.
Scores of politicians are on the honorary advisory panel, and the national co-chairs of Sportsmen for Romney are Johnny Morris, Wade Boggs, Kim Rhode, Melissa Simpson, Richard Childress and Jeff Foxworthy.
The organization’s existence, announce only three weeks prior to the election, may be too little too late to influence a major shift in the outdoors community, however. Yet polling data shows Romney either holding even with or gradually pulling ahead of the president, depending upon whose poll one relies.
The second debate may not have changed too many minds, but there is no “Sportsmen for Obama” group rising to the surface, and there has not been anything similar since the quiet demise of the American Hunting and Shooting Association (AHSA), which was seen by many as a partisan front group.
A final debate is scheduled Monday, Oct. 22 in Florida. That one is supposed to deal with foreign policy, and that may allow Fast and Furious to come up again, because the operation allowed some 2,000 guns to be walked across an international border and contribute to a bloody drug war in a neighboring country.