Donald Trump, Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley speak at event

Second Amendment


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WASHINGTON – Donald Trump and other Republican presidential hopefuls speak Friday to a group of key conservative constituents – gun owners – at a fraught time for both the GOP candidates and their audience.

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The National Rifle Association is holding its convention in Indianapolis within two weeks of two more mass shootings, one at a school in Nashville and the other at a bank in Louisville. The killings put more political pressure on Republicans to support at least some kind of gun control.

Republican presidential candidates are not expected to call for new gun restrictions in their remarks to the NRA, and most have other things on their minds.

Trump is dealing with his recent indictment, while prospective rivals like Ron DeSantis, Mike Pence, and Nikki Haley are looking for traction in the still-evolving 2024 Republican presidential race.

GOP speakers “will discuss many of today’s most pressing issues,” said Randy Kozuch, interim executive director of the NRA’s Institute for Legislative Action, while reminding gun rights supporters “of the importance of protecting the Second Amendment.”

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‘Out-MAGA each other’

Democrats are already attacking the Republicans for appearing at the NRA convention, saying it demonstrates their unabashed loyalty to the gun lobby even in the wake of horrific mass killings.

Jaime Harrison, chairman of the Democratic National Committee, made reference to Trump’s “Make America Great Again” movement in denouncing the candidate forum. “You can be sure that Republican extreme records on guns will be on full display tomorrow as they attempt to out-MAGA each other,” he said.

The GOP candidates are in different places with respect to the 2024 race.

Trump’s legal issues

Trump addresses the NRA ten days after pleading not guilty in New York City to charges of falsifying business records in order to cover up hush money payments and campaign finance violations.

On Thursday, Trump gave a deposition in a fraud lawsuit filed against him by New York Attorney General Letitia James.

Trump has spent weeks attacking prosecutors who are investigating various cases against him, and is expected to do so again in his speech to the NRA – itself the subject of a 2020 lawsuit filed by James.

Trump, who saw several mass shootings during his presidency, has always backed NRA-backed gun policies, and credited the group with giving him a huge political boost during his first presidential campaign in 2016.

DeSantis on the verge

The Florida governor, who has yet to formally declare his 2024 candidacy, is scheduled to speak via video to the NRA. He is also making appearances Friday in Virginia and New Hampshire.

DeSantis is expected to announce after the Florida Legislature adjourns in May. The session has featured passage of a number of DeSantis-backed measures that could well surface in a presidential campaign.

Among them: A bill that will allow Florida residents to carry concealed guns without permits.

Haley v. Trump v. DeSantis

Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, appears via video at the NRA at a time when her campaign is going after both Trump and DeSantis, both of whom enjoy leads over her in early polling.

In a memo to donors, the Haley campaign denounced Trump’s indictment as “outrageous prosecutorial abuse,” while also suggesting it would be a major distraction for him. “It’s increasingly clear that Trump’s candidacy is more consumed by the grievances of the past and the promise of more drama in the future, rather than a forward-looking vision for the American people,” the memo said.

As for DeSantis, the Haley campaign cited changing views on aid to Ukraine and questionable campaign skills. The memo said DeSantis has “made one misstep after another, confirming what many observers have long suspected: he’s not ready for prime time.”

Haley is expected to stump for the Second Amendment during her NRA speech.

Pence and the grand jury

The former vice president, and former governor of Indiana, addresses the NRA’s Indianapolis convention at an interesting time. He is expected to testify soon to a grand jury about his dealings with Trump in and around the insurrection of Jan. 6, 2021.

Pence has said Trump was wrong to demand that he throw out electoral votes favorable to Biden, but he has otherwise defended Trump amid the many investigations of the ex-president.

During a recent campaign appearance in Alabama, Pence said: “I know the president, and the president can take care of himself.”

When an audience member asked Pence whether AR-15s and similar assault weapons are necessary, the former vice president did not respond directly. He instead called for improved mental health programs to help troubled youths, and advocated the death penalty for mass shooters.

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Seeking traction

Other presidential aspirants addressing the National Rifle Association are looking to build their political profiles.

Tim Scott, a senator from South Carolina, announced just this week that he has formed an exploratory committee, a major step toward a possible 2024 presidential candidacy.

Vivek Ramaswamy is a businessman who built a brand by opposing so-called “woke” social policies.

Asa Hutchinson, the former governor of Arkansas, has called on Trump to suspend his campaign because of the indictment.

Two other NRA speakers are also said to be considering presidential bids: New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu and South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem.

The Nashville sound

In addition to the NRA, Trump, Pence, and perhaps other aspirants are expected to address a closed-door Republican donor retreat in Nashville, Tenn., the city that was the site of the shooting that killed three children and three adult staff members at a Christian school. 

Nashville is also the city where Republican members of the state legislature expelled two Democrats for disrupting a meeting to protest the lack of action on gun control. The two members have since been re-appointed.



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