At the National Rifle Association's annual meeting in Atlanta, Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action, and Alan Gottlieb, founder and vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, spoke with the Washington Free Beacon in exclusive interviews, the first part of which you can read here.
Both men spoke of the road ahead—there's still plenty the gun-rights movement wants to do. The NRA's biggest legislative priorities are still sitting in Congress without having hearings scheduled yet.
"Our number-one legislative priority remains right to carry reciprocity," said Chris Cox. "We still have a serious focus and a priority on the Hearing Protection Act and how that moves forward whether it's free-standing, whether it's part of a larger package, a sportsman package, a larger piece of legislation or a combination of legislation, that's what we're in the process of working through. So, certainly Congress has not done their job but the president, by any measurement, when it comes to gun rights and the Second Amendment, is fulfilling his promises, and that's ultimately how we judge any politician whether it's the president or a city councilman."
There's some question about when a national gun-carry reciprocity bill might make it to the president's desk. Gottlieb said he expects one to make it there this year. Cox wouldn't put a definitive timetable on the prospect. The NRA, which is the main driving force behind the legislation pending in congress, is pushing for a vote on both reciprocity and silencer deregulation sometime before the next election both to push the issues to the forefront and to get a solid count of how many seats they'll need to flip in 2018.
"Because of the work of the National Rifle Association, you now have some form of right to carry in just about every state," Cox said. "We need to recognize that we now have somewhere between 14 and 15 million permitted Americans who are carrying firearms—not including all the people in Constitutional Carry states who can carry without a permit. I don't know, truthfully, what that number is but let's say it's another 3 or 4 million. So, you have somewhere between 18 and 20 million people who need to be able to cross a state line and still be able to defend themselves and their families, God forbid, they're in that situation. So, that's not a nibbling-around-the-edges kind of issue, that's not a tweak to the statute, that's not a funding restriction—though all those things are very important—this is not just a logical but a very strategic and important next step in the expansion of self-defense."
As in his speech introducing Trump at the annual meeting, Cox guaranteed that the NRA would eventually get national gun-carry reciprocity passed into law. "I'm not guaranteeing that this Congress is going to do anything this week or next week," he said. "All I'm guaranteeing is that the National Rifle Association is committed to seeing this through. We don't care how long it takes. We don't care how many politicians have to be defeated in elections. This is not our first uphill fight. We have been preparing for this fight for decades. As we've succeeded in passing right to carry laws in state after state, where we've gone from a handful 35 years ago to virtually the entire country—with obvious exceptions of Hawaii and others who continue to undermine freedom. This is a fight that we've been preparing for decades."
"The Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act is an issue that I worked on … collectively for years. It took seven years, three election cycles," Cox pointed out. "If you can't pass legislation through a Congress then you have to change the face of that Congress. So, I can't make a promise or a commitment because we ultimately don't have a voting card—all we have is millions of people who support this freedom and are willing to participate in the democratic process. But what I said was that I don't care how long it takes, but we can and we will make Congress pass right to carry reciprocity. That is what we do. For me not to say that that's what we're going to do is for me to say we're not going to carry out the mission that our members entrust upon us. That's personal and professional for me."
Cox believes the votes are there for national gun-carry reciprocity or, at least, nearly so.
"If you look at it, just from a strategic standpoint, we've had votes on right to carry reciprocity. If you look at it from a pure numbers standpoint, we're either there or we're really close if Chuck Schumer doesn't put the pressure and if, ultimately, some of these Democrats in the Senate who have supported this position previously don't change their support," he said.
But Cox sees fights beyond the issues that are currently working their way, however slowly, through Congress. "Not just as far as overturning eight years of Obama actions but going back 10, 20, 30, 40 years of things that need to be done. We still live in a country where you can't purchase a handgun outside your state of residence even if you're going through the same background check you would go through in your state of residence. That's a holdover from the pre-[National Instant Criminal Background Check System] days, which is antiquated and completely unacceptable. So, there are a lot of things that need to be done outside of those bigger ticket issues that might get more attention."
The biggest danger facing the gun-rights movement now, both men said, is the potential for gun-rights activists to become complacent in the wake of Trump's election.
"I'm hoping for a few things. One, that we can continue to keep NRA members and gun owners engaged in the process and not think that November was the end all, be all—as critically important as that was and, literally, it saved the future of individual freedom, I think it saved the republic—people have to understand it didn't end on election night, as wonderful as that night was," Cox said. "Every one of these issues, including right to carry reciprocity, is going to have to be run like a campaign. Just like that campaign, with the commitment and the intensity and the moral purpose as I talked about on Friday, the moral purpose to move forward."
The gun-rights movement now sees itself as on offense at every level, ready to capitalize on its election wins.
"We're on the attack and on the offensive, not just legislatively but also in the courts. We are on an offensive setting for the first time, federal, in a long time," Gottlieb said. "We've been that way on a state level for a long time now. But this year, also, there are more seats in more pro-gun hands and legislatures that are pro-gun now than before. We're seeing a lot of stuff being passed on a state level too: concealed-carry laws giving you more places where you can carry, more access to where you can carry, campus carry. We've seen a whole lot of things on the state level moving in our direction too. So, sometimes what happens on a federal level impacts the state level and what happens on the state level impacts the federal level."
For his part, President Trump is doubling down on his commitment to gun owners.
"Let me make a simple promise to every one of the freedom-loving Americans in the audience today: As your president, I will never ever infringe on the right of the people to keep and bear arms," he said during his speech at the NRA Annual Meeting—to raucous applause. "Never ever."