Tens of thousands of NRA members are in Indianapolis, Indiana for the organization’s 152nd Annual Meetings and exhibits, and while the 14 acres of guns and gear will be one of the biggest draws over the weekend, today’s NRA-ILA Leadership Forum will be packed with NRA members who’ll get a chance to hear from many 2024 presidential contenders, including front-runner Donald Trump.
In fact, today’s event is one of the first times that Trump and former Vice President Mike Pence will both be speaking, and Pence is expected to “implictly” draw a contrast between his own views on the Second Amendment and those of his former boss, according to a Politico report.
His speech, according to an adviser, is likely to address both the Nashville and Louisville mass shootings, talk about the importance of mental health facilities, train and supply armed officers at schools and embrace expediting the death penalty for perpetrators.
What Pence won’t talk about, though, is perhaps more instructive: Championing red flag laws that give law enforcement officials the opportunity to intervene when a person is deemed as high-risk, as well as banning bump stocks. Those two issues were ones Trump was open to or acted upon during his administration. Pence advocated for red flag laws as vice president, but has since disavowed the idea, with his Advancing American Freedom group coming out against it in March 2022.
“It will make for interesting political theater,” said a Republican close to past such NRA proceedings who has met with both Trump and Pence on the issue of firearms, and was granted anonymity to discuss private conversations.
The reversal is part of an effort to paint Trump as unreliable on Second Amendment rights. And, indeed, when asked for comment, a Pence adviser sent a February 2018 Daily Mail item referencing Sen. Diane Feinstein’s (D-Calif.) positive reaction to Trump’s willingness to consider firearm restrictions: “Feinstein can’t contain her glee in gun control meeting with Trump.”
I don’t think Trump is going to be highlighting his previous comments in favor of banning bump stocks, establishing a “red flag” law, or his reputed desire to pass an “assault weapons” ban while in office, so if Pence is hoping to contrast his own positions with Trump’s past remarks he’ll need to do more than just hint at the differences.
Other 2024 contenders are hoping to use the high-profile setting to make a campaign splash. According to an advance copy of businessman Vivek Ramaswamy’s prepared remarks seen by Fox News, the longshot contender will call for the abolishment of the ATF.
“The ATF is an agency beyond repair. I have already pledged to shut down the FBI and to rebuild a new federal law enforcement apparatus from scratch. This new apparatus can perform the function of background checks without creating a gun registry or shadow database – and I will shut down the ATF whose culture has become so toxic that it cannot merely be ‘reformed,'” Ramaswamy will say, according to a preview of the speech obtained by Fox News Digital.
Ramaswamy will also call for expanded Second Amendment rights for Americans, including making constitutional carry the “law of the land.”
Ramaswamy is also taking an interesting approach to his new status as a gun owner.
Other parts of the speech will explain why he became a gun owner as a child of immigrants and after growing up in an “anti-gun” family.
“I’m not going to act like someone I’m not. I don’t go hunting. Sport shooting isn’t a hobby of mine. But I recently became a gun owner, and I’ll tell you why. It’s because the Second Amendment was made for times like today,” Ramaswamy will say.
That’s a much better strategy than donning a blaze orange vest and pretending to be something he’s not, though I am curious about when, exactly, Ramaswamy decided to join the ranks of the 100,000,000 (or so) gun owners across the country. Since 2020 we’ve seen millions of new gun owners, according to groups like the National Shooting Sports Foundation, so Ramaswamy isn’t alone in embracing his Second Amendment rights after years of fence-sitting or even holding anti-gun views, but I’ll confess that part of me wonders if his status as a new gun owner isn’t related more to his run for presidency than a newfound respect for the right to keep and bear arms.
Other 2024 hopefuls, including Ron DeSantis, Nikki Haley, and Sen. Tim Scott will address the NRA members via video, but it’s Trump who’ll be getting the lion’s share of attention from both the media and attendees. The former president hasn’t really hinted at what he’ll say during his remarks, but I’d be surprised if he didn’t take at least a jab or two at his potential rivals for the nomination while touting his own support for the Second Amendment and his efforts to reshape the federal judiciary during his time in office.
We’ll have more coverage of the Leadership Forum this afternoon after the event wraps up, including the in-person remarks by New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu; another potential candidate in 2024 who can tout his own record in support of Constitutional Carry and a number of other pro-2A bills that he’s signed into law. If you want to watch the event as it happens, it looks like you’ll be able to stream the Leadership Forum via C-SPAN starting at 2 p.m. Eastern.