Gov. Kristi Noem signed an executive order that she said will bolster gun rights as she spoke to a crowd Thursday at the National Rifle Association Leadership Forum in Indianapolis, along with presidential candidates and potential candidates including former President Donald Trump, former Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson and former Vice President Mike Pence.
Donald Trump talks gun rights — but not his criminal charges — at NRA convention
Noem is viewed as a potential presidential candidate but has not committed to running. During her speech, she touted South Dakota’s economic growth and gun-friendliness since she stepped into office in 2018. Her executive order bars state agencies under her control from contracting with financial institutions that discriminate against firearm-related entities.
The appearance furthers the governor’s national brand and is a clear indication she has ambitions at the national level, said David Wiltse, political science professor at South Dakota State University.
In fact, she is “doing everything she needs to do” to run for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination, he said.
“This is a national stage — deliberately a national stage,” Wiltse said. “That’s probably more or less an unequivocal good for the state and certainly good for her as she looks past her current office, as any ambitious politician would.”
New executive order mirrors Texas, Montana laws
Noem opened her speech with stories about how growing up hunting played a role in developing her confidence and problem-solving abilities. She further used the microphone to promote South Dakota, sharing her determination not to “lock down” during the COVID pandemic and touting the state’s positive record with gun owners.
In 2019, she signed a bill into law eliminating the need for a permit to carry a concealed weapon in the state. South Dakota also has a strengthened “Stand Your Ground” law and doesn’t charge a fee for concealed carry permits — even paying for individuals’ federal background checks when they buy a gun from a licensed dealer, she said.
“We are setting the standards as the most Second Amendment friendly state in the nation,” Noem said.
South Dakota is listed as the seventh best state for gun owners, according to Guns and Ammo, behind Wyoming, Montana, Indiana, Utah, Arizona and North Dakota.
After Noem signed her executive order on stage, she handed the pen to NRA CEO and Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre. Texas signed similar legislation into law in 2021, and a similar bill in Montana is awaiting the governor’s signature after passing through the Legislature earlier this month.
The executive order would require banks and other businesses seeking state contracts worth $100,000 or more to certify they don’t exclude firearm or ammunition industries and retailers.
“God gave you the right to defend yourself and your family. The government recognizes that right, but we don’t have to ask permission to defend it,” Noem said, after comparing the modern political situation to the Revolutionary War period.
Noem is making ‘all the right moves’ for presidential bid
Noem used some of her time at the podium to re-introduce herself to a national audience. She spoke about her success as governor and her rural roots, she told stories of her family and her grandchildren, and touched on national political topics.
Noem was met with a standing ovation as she walked off the stage to the country song “Courtesy of the Red, White and Blue” by Toby Keith. Trump and Pence received a similar standing ovation, but Hutchinson did not.
Republican Florida Gov. Ron Desantis spoke to the convention via video message. Like Noem, he has not officially announced a run, but he’s a leader in some polls.
Noem and Desantis are favored among South Dakota Republicans, based on an SDSU poll by Wiltse and SDSU professor Filip Viskupič. The poll, which surveyed 747 registered voters about five presidential candidates or potential candidates, was released Thursday.
“You’re seeing her make all these moves that just have to be done. Things like the NRA convention, those are important when it comes to funding but also when signaling support and taking cues from opinion leaders,” Wiltse said. “She has a constant presence on conservative media too — that’s everything you need to do to run for president at this point.”
But, Wiltse said, those are also the things needed to do if she’s angling for vice president or a cabinet position.
“You can’t be sure of this other than we know she’s building her name and her brand for something bigger than governor, which is perfectly normal and logical and something any other politician worth their salt is going to be doing.”
The next step, Wiltse said, is heading to Iowa or South Carolina, which are early Republican primary states.
“That’s where you’re really waving a flag of running or wanting to be involved in shaping who runs,” Wiltse said.
Noem has been invited to the Iowa Faith and Freedom Coalition’s speaking event later this month, according to the Argus Leader. The event is for those who’ve expressed an interest in running for president, and other invitees include DeSantis, Hutchinson, Trump and former South Carolina Governor Nikki Haley.