Paul Ryan and the Gun Control Factor

Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wisc., looks for his ride to the airport as he leaves the House floor after votes as the summer recess begins. Photograph by Bill Clark/CQ Roll Call via Getty Images

In coming weeks we’ll see whether swing voters go for Representative Paul Ryan’s brand of anti-tax, anti-Medicare, anti-Medicaid politics. Another strong opinion held by the presumptive Republican vice presidential nominee, although not one that has received much attention so far, is that he is very, very pro-gun. His passion for hunting and for gun rights could make a critical difference in battleground states.

One of the many reasons the Republican base has had its hesitations about Mitt Romney is his dubious dedication to the Second Amendment. Not so Ryan. His firearm credentials are unimpeachable. When the Wisconsin congressman announced his engagement to be married in 2000, the New York Times reports, the notice in the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel stated: “Ryan is an avid hunter and fisherman who does his own skinning and butchering and makes his own Polish sausage and bratwurst.”

Ryan reportedly slays deer with bow and arrow as well as rifle. Doubt not, however, his fidelity to firearms and opposition to tougher gun control. In the final paragraphs of an illuminating sidebar article on Ryan’s views apart from the budget and taxes, the Times reports: “He voted in 1999 against a proposal that would have established more stringent requirements for background checks on people buying firearms at gun shows. He voted last year for a gun-rights bill under which a permit to carry a concealed firearm in one state would be valid in almost every other state.”

It’s that last position that could become a flashpoint in the presidential race. The concealed-carry reciprocity bill Ryan supported passed the House last year before Democrats in the Senate stopped it. The legislation would allow a Virginia resident with a permit to tote her Glock in a belt holster or pocketbook when she goes sightseeing in New York City, despite the city’s more stringent rules on gun possession.

Concealed-carry reciprocity is a huge priority for the National Rifle Association. You can count on the issue arising in the Oct. 11 vice presidential debate and on the campaign trail in pro-gun swing states such as Pennsylvania and Ohio, where many voters in both parties enjoy hunting and admire a guy who can skin and butcher his prey.

NRA grass-roots activism helped tilt the razor-close 2000 election to George W. Bush. Al Gore lost his home state of Tennessee and Bill Clinton’s home state of Arkansas in part because of gun-rights opposition to the assault weapons ban (which Clinton signed into law in 1994 and which Bush allowed to expire in 2004). If Gore had won what should have been a pair of slam-dunk states, as well as West Virginia, where the NRA also went after him big time, the hanging-chad melodrama in Florida might have been irrelevant.

The painful political lesson of 2000 was not lost on Barack Obama. It helps explain why the president has done nothing to support stricter gun control in the wake of horrendous mass shootings in Tucson; Aurora, Colo.; and suburban Milwaukee. Romney’s selection of Ryan could force the gun issue to the front of the presidential campaign stage this fall. Given Ryan’s cheerful ability to project traditional middle-American symbolism, this can’t be something that Obama’s reelection strategists welcome.

    Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.