With President Trump's first hundred days in the books and the NRA's Annual Meeting over, leaders of the gun-rights movement are ecstatic about this administration's progress on Second Amendment issues and excited about advances to come.
In exclusive conversations with the Washington Free Beacon, the head of the National Rifle Association's (NRA) lobbying arm and the founder of the Second Amendment Foundation (SAF) shared their perspectives on the state of the gun-rights movement. Touting a number of concrete accomplishments and even more rhetorical commitments made by the president, the gun-rights leaders said they were more than satisfied with what they have seen thus far.
"The mainstream media won't give this president credit for much during his first hundred days," said Chris Cox, executive director of the NRA's Institute for Legislative Action. "But, if you look at it from a Second Amendment and individual rights standpoint, he ran as the most pro-Second Amendment candidate in American history and you could make an argument that he's been the most successful, from a Second Amendment standpoint, in the first hundred days. If you look at, first of all, changing the philosophy from the White House, changing the philosophy of the administration from one that looks to undermine the Second Amendment at every opportunity to someone that's unapologetic and vocal in his support of the Second Amendment. That might not seem like an accomplishment, but it's changing the mentality. You can't drain the swamp until you think the right way."
Alan Gottlieb, founder and vice president of the Second Amendment Foundation, said he has been "highly ecstatic" about the first hundred days. "First of all, the threat's gone. Hillary Clinton is not there. The threat of more anti-gun executive orders, anti-gun judges being appointed, legislation, verbal attacks, using the White House as a bully pulpit, is all gone. That's a blessing."
After eight years of fighting against former President Barack Obama and the prospect of a Hillary Clinton presidency, the gun-rights movement seems happy enough with that outcome. The fact that Trump and his sons are NRA members who support and even practice concealed carry, and that the president openly attacks gun-control policies like gun-free zones, is considered a bonus.
"I mean, a full embrace of this idea, this concept, this right that we talk about, of armed self-defense," Cox said. "[A candidate] who talked about right-to-carry reciprocity, who talked about these issues, and not only on the campaign website from a policy standpoint but consistently in his speeches and who came to this event not just last year but the year before—this was the third NRA convention that Donald Trump attended."
"We had to slow down a lot of court cases and not file some new cases because we were very concerned that Hillary Clinton would be putting the 9th judge on the Supreme Court and stacking the courts with more anti-gun judges like Obama did," Gottlieb said. "We don't have to worry about that now so we're full steam ahead on our legal agenda filing new suits all the time. We're really, really ecstatic and excited. Six months ago it looked like everything we'd accomplished was going to start getting eroded in the courts. Approximately 80 percent of all the pro-Second Amendment case law have been cases won by the Second Amendment Foundation so we were very concerned that would start to be eroded and gone. That's not going to happen. Now we can build on that.
"It's like night and day. The storm's gone. The clouds are gone. And the sun is shining."
President Trump himself put the stark contrast into words during his speech to the NRA Annual Meeting. "But we have news that you’ve been waiting for a long time: The eight-year assault on your Second Amendment freedoms has come to a crashing end," Trump said to cheers. "You have a true friend and champion in the White House."
"Ronald Reagan was the last sitting president to come and address [the NRA conference] and that's 34 years ago," Cox said. "You look how much has changed in the last 34 years with right to carry. Right to carry wasn't sweeping across the nation. We weren't having a legitimate conversation about right-to-carry reciprocity. We were barely having a conversation about right-to-carry reciprocity through a couple of the states that had it. So, it was a different time when President Reagan came. It was wonderful that he came and, I'm sure, a very very special moment for NRA members who attended but we live in a much different country when it comes to recognizing the rights of law-abiding people than we did in 1983. That's meant in no way as disrespectful to the former president.
"For this president, in these times, to come and speak to this Annual Meeting, I think it shows not just a respect for what NRA members and gun owners did across the country to put him in the White House but also a commitment, as he said and continues to say publicly, that he will not […] let the Second Amendment be further undermined. That's a monumental shift, certainly, after eight years of Barack Obama."
Aside from the symbolism and rhetoric, "the biggest thing, the most monumental thing that's happened in the first hundred days, is the appointment of Neil Gorsuch on the Supreme Court," Cox said. "When we gathered here last year, the Court was deadlocked at 4-4 on Heller and McDonald, which don't recognize much. They just say it's an individual right, and you can keep a gun in your home for self defense; doesn't talk about crossing that threshold, doesn't talk about ARs, doesn't talk about anything other than the most basic right. And to think that we didn't have a majority on the Court just a few weeks ago, it's hard for a lot of people to understand and comprehend, but that can't be understated because it means that this has been a decision that'll have an impact 30, 40 years down the road and not just during the first four or eight years during a Trump administration."
Gottlieb said the appointment will also keep the lower courts in line: "Judge Gorsuch being appointed to the Supreme Court is monumental for us. That 4-4 tie with the vacancy not being filled was hurting us because circuits like the 9th circuit would thumb their nose at us and if they en banc ruled against us, they're going to be upheld on a 4-4 tie. Now they can't do that so the circuits will have a hard time thumbing their nose and ruling against us. Not only that but it's back to what I believe is a 5-4 pro-gun rights majority on the Court, basically. I think that's very, very important."
Trump received a standing ovation from the thousands of NRA members gathered to hear him speak when he brought up Gorsuch as a promise kept. "I promised that if elected, I would nominate a justice who would be faithful and loyal to the Constitution," he said. "I even went one step further and publicly presented a list of 20 judges from which I would make my selection, and that’s exactly what we did."
The appointment of Jeff Sessions was next on the list of things Cox and Gottlieb spotlighted.
According to Gottlieb, "We have now, for the first time in a long time, not just an attorney general who won't attack gun rights, we have Jeff Sessions—an attorney general who supports gun rights very heavily. That's really important for the tenor of the Justice Department, especially for the Second Amendment Foundation, because of all the litigation we do."
"Going from Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch," Cox said, "and knowing that this idiotic Fast and Furious type of mentality, the mentality that would lead us to something like that is going to be gone, that we have a Justice Department that's not about the political justice of Barack Obama but prosecuting criminals who break the law, getting back to the prosecutorial arm of the government, the way the Justice Department is supposed to be, that is a significant change." Cox called Sessions "a rock-solid, pro-Second Amendment, unapologetic supporter."