“This is the whole problem with Donald Trump,” he said. “How do I trust the man? He’s been on the other side of so many issues from me and from himself in the past. … He’s here, he’s there. He’s everywhere.”
Trump, however, has renounced those views; recently he even announced he would abolish gun-free zones on Day One in office. When asked for comment on his previous positions, Trump campaign spokeswoman Hope Hicks referred to his campaign website, which claims that “gun and magazine bans are a total failure” and rebuffs Democratic calls for expanding gun background checks.
The search for the perfect candidate among gun-rights voters is fierce—and even extends to the board of the National Rifle Association, the nation’s most influential gun group. One New Jersey member, Scott Bach, has written a New Hampshire Union Leader op-ed defending New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who has changed his mind on the assault-weapons ban and concealed-carry permits. But that isn’t good enough for some advocates, who dredge up various Christie comments, from 2009 all the way back to 1993, when he said that he was running for a state Senate seat to uphold an assault-weapons ban. “Unless walked back—denounced—that’s a challenge,” says Grover Norquist, an NRA board member. “[But] people change their minds.”
Former Rep. Bob Barr, another NRA board member and a Cruz supporter, adds that Christie is “really bad" on Second Amendment issues, even "basically more on the Democratic side than the Republican side.”
The comments from Cruz’s supporters take direct aim at two of their top opponents—and show a willingness to engage particularly on Trump’s guns record much more than the candidate himself.
With less than a month from the first two contests, all of the candidates are seeking whatever leverage they can muster. And after President Obama raised gun policy to the forefront of national debate—announcing a new executive action to strengthen background checks, promoted by a nationally televised town hall and an empty seat at the State of the Union left for victims of gun violence—activists on both sides of the national debate say that gun policy will be more relevant in this presidential race than any in recent memory.
“Here’s what I think is different about the gun issue this time,” said Norquist. “The Democrats are going out front, whereas they haven’t run on the gun issue since the ‘70s.”
Erika Soto Lamb, spokeswoman for the Michael Bloomberg-backed Everytown for Gun Safety, said, “It’s like a new world—a changed environment because they’re all talking about it on both sides.
“We welcome the president to our club of single-issue voters on gun safety,” she added, referring to Obama’s highly publicized pledge in The New York Times to “not campaign for, vote for or support any candidate, even in my own party, who does not support common-sense gun reform.”