Mitt Romney says he “supports the Second Amendment”. And, based on a casual glance at his record, you could almost believe him. As governor of Massachusetts, he signed some laws to protect hunters and clarified some language in the state’s gun laws.
On the other hand, he signed an “assault weapons” ban. As Mitt has said, he was a Republican governor in “a tough state”, and he had to make some compromises on these issues.
Naturally, there is some back-and-forth about Romney’s gun views- were his actions a “net positive” for gun owners in Massachusetts, as he claims, or were his efforts cleverly-disguised gun grabs?
Let me ask you, the reader, a question: Who was the most influential in forming your political views? I’m willing to bet most of you answered “my parents”.
Mitt Romney’s father, George, was governor of Michigan from 1963-1969; Mitt has often said that his father was his greatest inspiration. And if we compare the gun laws each Romney passed while governor of their respective states, we find some telling parallels.
Handgun Ownership: In order to understand Mitt Romney’s actions here, it is necessary to give a little background information about Massachusetts gun control laws: In 1998, Massachusetts established a list of “safety” criteria for handguns sold in the state. The criteria were designed to disqualify most handguns. The Roster is the list of those few makes and models which have passed the testing requirements.
Mitt Romney created two exemptions: One for handguns already licensed in the state prior to October 21, 1998, and one for “match-grade” pistols (high-dollar handguns purpose-built for shooting competitions).
The 1998 exemption is significant when one understand the “preban effect”: Some gun laws are written with an effective date, where firearms sold after the date are subject to the law, while those sold before the date are “grandfathered”. Since there is a limited supply of grandfathered items, the sale price of those items skyrockets.
The net effect of Mitt Romney’s exemptions was this: In Massachusetts, a person now has three options for legally owning a handgun: 1) an expensive pre-1998 handgun; 2) an expensive “safety-approved” handgun; 3) an expensive match-grade handgun.
Compare this to George Romney’s “safety” law- Public Acts 215 and 216 of 1964- which required all handguns to be submitted, within ten days of purchase, for inspection by a law enforcement officer in order to obtain a “safety certificate”. “Safety”, however, was undefined, and determining that a handgun was “safe” was left entirely to the discretion of the officer conducting the inspection. In effect, law enforcement could determine any handgun to be “unsafe”, and confiscate the handgun on the spot, without compensating the buyer for his loss. This provided a disincentive for unpopular persons and minorities to attempt to lawfully buy handguns, knowing their handguns would be confiscated. Likewise, a lower-income person would not want to take the risk of saving money to buy a handgun, only to have their investment confiscated in this manner.
Like father, like son: Both Romneys used the guise of “safety” to deny the right to own a handgun to lower-income persons and “undesireables“.
Carrying Handguns: Before George Romney became governor, Michigan had created a very restrictive licensing law for carrying a concealed handgun: License applicants had to prove an immediate physical risk to a county license board consisting of representatives of the county prosecuting attorney, county sheriff, and the commissioner of state police. Needless to say, many applications for a carry license were rejected (and this state of affairs led to concealed carry reforms decades later). A concealed carry license was also required if a person wanted to transport a loaded handgun in an automobile, whether or not the handgun was concealed. Open (visible) carry of a handgun was technically legal (outside of an automobile), but in practice, doing it would usually lead to arrest for a “disturbing the peace” type of charge.
So, what was one to do if they wanted to carry a handgun, but weren’t politically connected enough to get a concealed carry license? Answer: Get a private security guard license. Said license authorized a person to carry a handgun openly without fear of arrest, carry a loaded handgun in an automobile, and was issued to virtually anyone who applied.
George Romney, however, made that practice illegal. Public Act 100 of 1966 made it a misdemeanor for a licensed security guard to carry a handgun except during work; Public Act 49 of 1967 made it a felony.
Romney did, however, extend concealed carry privileges in Michigan to licensees from other states- understanding that, in the 1960s, almost all states had similarly-restrictive processes for issuing a license to carry concealed. Romney did little more than extend a privilege given to an “elite few” in his state, to the similar “elite few” of other states.
By comparison, Mitt Romney had little work to do in this regard: By the time he took office, Massachusetts already had a two-tiered carry law: Persons with a “Class B” license could “carry” (transport in a box) an unloaded firearm to and from hunting areas and target ranges; the “elite few” granted a “Class A” license (issued to those who could prove a “need” to local law enforcement, as in Michigan in the 1960s) were entitled to carry a concealed handgun for self-defense.
While running for Governor in 2002, Mitt Romney infamously said: “I won’t chip away at them; I believe they protect us and provide for our safety.” And he didn’t.
Like father, like son: Both Romneys supported restricting the carrying of handguns for self-defense to an “elite few” of police and politically-connected businessmen.
Assault Weapons: The firearms we nowadays call “assault weapons”- certain types of semi-automatic rifles which cosmetically resemble military rifles- were extremely uncommon in the early 1960s (indeed, most modern “assault rifles” had not yet been invented). On this point we can’t compare the record of the two Romneys, as this is a modern gun rights issue. Mitt Romney signed Massachusetts’ assault weapons ban- and has frequently cited that he did so because such weapons as “especially lethal” and “not sporting” (see below). As I have stated before, this type of weapon is uniquely suited to the growing problem of home-invasion crimes; denying them to the public places a limit on the practical application of an individual’s right of self-defense.
Sporting Purposes: George Romney signed only one hunting regulation as governor- Public Act 159 of 1967, which created a regulatory board for hunting and mandated certain hunting safety practices. Mitt Romney, as governor, signed laws to protect shooting clubs, institute youth hunter safety courses, and restored funding to the Massachusetts Inland Fish and Game Fund. Both Romneys used their “pro-sporting” message as part of their election campaigns.
Like father, like son: Both Romneys used “sporting” rhetoric to conceal their gun control agendas.
In sum: It’s not fair to say Mitt Romney is “anti-gun”. Likewise, it’s not reasonable to believe Mitt was merely bending to the political will of the people of Massachusetts (I doubt the will of the people was to rehash 40-year-old gun control ideas from another state). As proved here, the more natural conclusion is that Mitt was emulating his father’s beliefs and ideals.
It is fair to say that Mitt is an elitist on the subject of firearms. His record demonstrates a WASP-y, 1950’s view of gun ownership: “Decent” people own guns for hunting and sporting, and protecting their homes. “Decent” people don’t “need” to carry guns for self-defense. Preventing people who aren’t “decent” from owning guns is a good idea.
His dad felt the same way.