Speaking at the National Rifle Association’s annual outdoor recreation show Friday in Harrisburg, former President Donald Trump delivered a simple but powerful message to a crowd of thousands of shooting and hunting enthusiasts.
“Your Second Amendment will always be safe with me as your president,” Trump said in his first 2024 appearance in Pennsylvania. “When I’m back in the Oval Office, no one will lay a finger on your firearms. Not gonna happen.”
In his familiar rambling and digressive style, Trump jumped from topic to topic – immigration, energy, electric cars, the poor quality of highway medians in the nation’s capital – but returned to Second Amendment rights and gun ownership a number of times during the 80-minute speech.
Trump told the audience that he appointed hundreds of federal judges, whom he characterized as “conservative originalists” to “interpret the Constitution as written.” And he warned that another Biden administration would mean hundreds of “radical left judges waging a crusade against law abiding gun owners.”
He reminded the crowd that he had reopened millions of acres of federal lands for hunting and fishing and during the pandemic declared gun and ammunition sellers to be critical infrastructure not subject to closure orders.
And Trump claimed credit for the pivotal 2022 Supreme Court decision that established a new test for the constitutionality of state gun regulations saying his administration petitioned to overturn New York’s requirements to carry a concealed weapon.
“I can tell you that the only thing standing between you and the obliteration of your under-siege Second Amendment is me,” Trump said.
Fresh off a symbolic victory in the Nevada caucus on Thursday, Trump emphasized the importance of Pennsylvania in this year’s presidential election. And with primary victories in Iowa, New Hampshire in his pocket, Trump appeared to skip over Pennsylvania’s primary, still more than 10 weeks away without mentioning his sole remaining opponent, former South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley.
“If you live in this Commonwealth, register everyone you know and get them out to vote,” Trump said. “We have to win in November, or we’re not going to have Pennsylvania. They’ll change the name.”
It wasn’t totally clear what Trump was referring to, but in January, a proposal by the National Park Service to remove a statue of William Penn from Welcome Park in Philadelphia was scuttled after Republican lawmakers protested.
On Friday night, Trump acknowledged U.S. Reps. Dan Meuser (R-9th District), Scott Perry (R-10th District), Guy Reschenthaler (R-14th District), and Lloyd Smucker (R-11th District), who were in the audience.
“We ran twice, we won Pennsylvania twice,” Trump said. “We did much better the second time than we did the first time. It’s interesting, isn’t it?”
During Trump’s 2020 campaign, he often talked about his support for fracking and attempted to paint Biden as an enemy to Pennsylvania’s natural gas industry. He returned to the theme on Friday.
On Jan. 26, the Biden administration announced a temporary pause on approvals of new liquified natural gas exports to countries without a free trade agreement with the United States. Pennsylvania lawmakers expressed concern about the move’s ramifications for a plan to export gas from Pennsylvania’s Marcellus Shale fields from a port near Philadelphia.
“We will reverse the Biden ban on natural gas exports,” Trump said. “We will end his war on American energy and we will unleash Pennsylvania oil and natural gas at a level never seen before.”
Trump also criticized the recent proposed sale of Pennsylvania-based U.S. Steel to Japan.
“Pennsylvania steel was poured into the backbone of our country. And now, U.S. Steel was just sold to Japan,” Trump said. “I wouldn’t approve that deal.”
In late December, Biden’s administration said that the proposed sale to Japan “deserves serious scrutiny.”
Trump claimed that he talked with a few Pennsylvania voters who said he is more popular in the state today than he was during the previous elections and that they said he was “gonna blow Pennsylvania away.”
“That’s what I think is going to happen,” Trump said, about his chances to carry the commonwealth in 2024.
Pennsylvania polling shows Biden and Trump neck and neck in a hypothetical rematch for the Keystone State.
Friday’s event was the third time Trump has spoken in Pennsylvania since he announced his reelection campaign. He spoke at a Moms for Liberty rally inPhiladelphia in June, and appeared in Erie in July.
With 19 electoral votes, Pennsylvania is regarded as a must-win state for a successful presidential candidate.
And although Dauphin County, where the state capital lies, went for the Democratic nominee in the last two presidential elections, it is an island of blue in a sea of red rural counties on electoral maps.
“To win Pennsylvania he has to really gin up his base. He has to make sure that people in rural areas are engaged,” Berwood Yost, director of the Franklin & Marshall College Center for Opinion Research, told the Capital-Star.
The decision to speak at the NRA’s Great Outdoor Show, billed as the largest in the nation, is logical, Yost said, because it draws shooting and hunting enthusiasts from across rural Pennsylvania and beyond.
“If he can talk about freedom and liberty through the lens of the Second Amendment it makes perfect sense for being here,” Yost said.
Pennsylvania Capital-Star is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Pennsylvania Capital-Star maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kim Lyons for questions: [email protected]. Follow Pennsylvania Capital-Star on Facebook and Twitter.