The National Rifle Association plans to spend tens of millions of dollars to sway close races throughout the country for the 2020 election.
Jason Ouimet, who runs the NRA's lobbying arm and political action committee, spoke exclusively with the Washington Free Beacon in his first in-depth interview on the gun-rights behemoth's 2020 electoral strategy. He said the group plans to spend heavily in battleground states to help reelect President Donald Trump over presumptive Democratic nominee Joe Biden, whom he described as "100 percent anti-gun." The group plans to focus much of its attention on Arizona, Colorado, Pennsylvania, North Carolina, and Wisconsin—swing states with traditionally strong support for gun rights.
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"We'll be in those places at every level," Ouimet said. And the message will be simple: A President Joe Biden and Democratic Senate are a threat to gun owners.
"You are literally going to be dealing with the potential confiscation of firearms. You're literally going to be told you can't carry in certain places. You can't own certain things for self-defense," Ouimet said. "Folks need to understand that."
The NRA spent $50 million to boost the GOP in 2016 but saw disastrous results in 2018 when it was outspent by gun-control groups. Ouimet said it plans on moving forward with the spending push despite losing between $10 and $15 million from the cancelation of the Second Amendment group's annual meeting and other fundraising events due to the coronavirus pandemic.
"We'll spend tens of millions of dollars. Will it be $50 million? I don't know," Ouimet said. "We got shut down from doing any of that level of fundraising. Yeah, that has an impact on us just the same way it has an impact on everybody else. Does it mean that we're not going to be effective? Does it mean that we're not going to play? No."
The coronavirus pandemic and social unrest may have hindered fundraising, but they have also led to historic gun sales. Ouimet said the NRA has added more than 1,000 new dues-paying members per day since June. The addition of some 60,000 new members and growing has helped swell NRA ranks to more than five million American adults.
"We've got a massive grassroots army, a massive grassroots army," he said. "They're not paid for by any one person or any group of billionaires. These are folks who joined on their own who got skin in the game, who go out to vote and who advocate for the issue."
The group expects those members will be motivated to vote due to the leftward swing that many Democrats at the national level—especially Biden—have made over the past several years.
"We're confident that we'll be able to mobilize them and get them out there and they'll be excited to do it," Ouimet said. "I mean, it's a big election and a big difference in the candidates."
The NRA has sparred with Trump over his support for some gun-control measures, including the implementation of his 2018 bump-stock ban. Ouimet said such disagreements do not take away from the president's overall positive legacy on Second Amendment issues or the group's support for him. He pointed to Trump's judicial appointments and protection of gun rights for Social Security recipients, as well as the administration's "essential business" declaration for the gun industry in the wake of coronavirus shutdowns.
"All those have been huge," Ouimet said.
He described Biden's agenda as radical. The presumptive Democratic nominee has pledged to ban and—Ouimet fears—possibly confiscate so-called assault weapons, outlaw online sales of weapons and ammunition, and allow suits against gun makers over the criminal misuse of guns by third parties, among other regulations.
"It's 100 percent anti-gun," Ouimet said. "It's all restrictions on law-abiding gun owners, not going to stop crime, not going to solve problems. As far as I'm concerned, a lot of it is unconstitutional."
The unprecedented surge of new gun buyers driven by uncertainty surrounding the pandemic and recent rioting illustrates the importance of the Second Amendment, Ouimet said, and the importance of defeating Biden.
"We've always said that when seconds matter sometimes help is minutes away. … That's why you see these lines around the block at all these gun stores right now," he said. "With Joe Biden in office, that's going to get seriously restricted, if not eliminated. And that's unacceptable."
The 2020 race will be the first major test for Ouimet who took over the NRA's political operations in September after former head Chris Cox was ousted from the organization. Republican leaders publicly voiced concerns about the fallout from Cox's departure. Ouimet said the clear differences between Biden and Trump on the issue will galvanize the group's membership and make voter outreach that much easier.
"I think sometimes we get a little fixated on just the one number and forget that that grassroots army is ultimately what's behind [us]," he said. "We're going to tap that resource and use it as we have in the past."