Gun advocates made gains under Obama, but still factor into election

Porcupine Freedom Fest

The libertarian-leaning Porcupine Freedom Fest takes place every summer in Lancaster, New Hampshire, drawing a number of passionate gun rights advocates. Although his administration has done little to advance gun control legislation, Barack Obama’s first term saw a nationwide increase in gun sales and criticism from gun rights organizations like the National Rifle Association. (Lucio Eastman/Flickr — click to enlarge)

By Gregory Nickerson

Nothing has done more to boost activity among gun-rights advocates — and the business of gun builders and retailers — than the 2008 election of Barack Obama. Following his 2008 campaign comments that people in rural areas “cling to their guns and religion,” gun advocates have used the comment as a foil in promoting their cause.

Second Amendment-only voters threaten hunting opportunities

Related Story: Second Amendment-only voters threaten hunting opportunities

Yet, compared to the Clinton administration’s passage of the Brady Bill, the Obama presidency has done little in the way of advancing gun control legislation. Bans on certain types of weaponry that expired under President Bush in 2004 have not been resurrected. The attempted assassination of Gabriel Giffords and the Aurora, Colorado, shooting this summer prompted calls for greater gun control and keeping records of bulk ammo sales, but the proposals have gained little traction in Congress. After the Aurora shooting, Obama stated his intention to reduce gun violence using existing law.

“President Obama hasn’t limited any gun rights. In fact he’s expanded them by signing bills to allow licensed handguns on Amtrak and in national parks,” said Brodie Farquhar, communications director for the Wyoming Democratic Party.

The National Rifle Association (NRA) has continued to portray Obama as anti-gun, citing his recent campaign statements that military-type weapons like AK-47s are appropriate only for the battlefield, not for use by private citizens. Fox News pointed to U.S. participation in drafting a United Nations arms trade treaty as a covert move to get Congress to consider registering all guns. In 2011, a proposed rule by the Interior Department to keep target shooters from using public lands met intense opposition from hunting groups.

“[The NRA has] been in full blown panic mode for four years, and aside from being a rather amazing boom to gun shops and gun manufacturers, for all of the warnings, nothing’s happened [to reduce gun rights],” Farquhar said. “NRA coffers have had a torrent of money come into them by pushing this fear message. And the leadership of the NRA has done very well,” he added.

A shot-out sign in western Wyoming. Many state legislators on both sides of the aisle support gun rights in Wyoming, and shy away from introducing gun control legislation. (Adam Lederer/Flickr — click to enlarge)

In Wyoming, gun rights advocates had successes with legislators in 2008, convincing them to pass a castle doctrine law and a law preventing seizure of guns when emergency powers are enacted. The latter law responded to the ban on guns in the wake of Hurricane Katrina in New Orleans. Both laws used similar language to model legislation from the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Wyoming also passed an open carry law in 2011 eliminating the need for concealed weapons permits for law-abiding citizens. Meanwhile, the gun-control lobby has a minimal presence in Wyoming. There is no local chapter for the Brady Campaign.

The popularity of gun rights in Wyoming exists in tandem with a particularly high rate of gun-related deaths in the state. According to the Center for Disease Control, in 2009 Wyoming had a firearms death rate of 18.1 per 100,000, tying with Louisiana for the highest rank among the 50 states and Washington D.C. This rate includes all gun deaths from violent crimes, accidents, and suicides. Past studies have shown that the availability and lethal nature of guns makes Wyoming’s rate of suicide by firearm higher than the national average.

In Wyoming politics, lobbyists are on the lookout for legislators that express anything shy of total support for gun rights. The Wyoming Gun Owners Association has called out Republican legislator Rep. Dan Zwonitzer (R-Cheyenne) for perceived anti-gun stances. The group’s website has also singled out Rep. Tom Lubnau (R-Gillete) for opposing a bill that would have kept local governments from placing restrictions on where guns can be carried.

Being pro-gun can help a candidate’s chances in a state election. This August, Anthony Bouchard, director of the Wyoming Gun Owners Association, narrowly lost a primary against Sen. Wayne Johnson (R-Cheyenne). Bouchard made waves in November 2011 by showing up armed with a holstered pistol at a Casper City Council meeting to speak against a prohibition of carrying weapons in government meetings. The ban passed.

In February, 2012, the Wyoming House fell two votes short of approving House Bill 60.  The measure would have kept local governments like the Casper City Council from enacting any gun control laws.

“In Wyoming, no Democrat is inclined to touch anything about the Second Amendment,” said Farquhar. “It’s a non-starter, mainly because most Democrats hunt and have guns themselves.”

Barack Obama

Gun confiscation in Louisiana in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, memories of gun control legislation under Clinton and fears of a United Nations Arms Trade Treaty have empowered gun rights advocates in their arguments against the Obama administration. (Rob Rudloff/Flickr — click to enlarge)

While gun ownership and gun rights remain very popular in Wyoming, a national survey showed that the national rate of gun ownership has fallen from 54 percent in 1977 to 32 percent in 2010. In part, this is due to a decades-long decline in hunting, though 2011 saw a modest uptick in hunting license sales.

Even with the rate of gun ownership falling, the number of gun purchases nationwide has steadily increased. Over the past five years background checks for gun purchases have surged 33.5 percent. Background checks in 2011 reached nearly 11 million, their highest number ever. December 2011 also set a monthly record for the highest number of background checks at over 1.4 million.

The increased number of firearms sales combined with the decreased ownership rate means that existing gun owners are buying more guns. And many of those buyers are in Wyoming.

Art Manning, owner of The Armorer in Cheyenne, says he has noticed a trend of customers buying numerous guns at one time. “The fear of Obama has scared them into it… I asked what they are going to do with [the guns] and they said they’ll take it out with the ammunition and bury them,” he said. Burying guns and ammo has long been a preemptive strategy for evading enforcement of anticipated nationwide gun bans.

Manning says gun owners have several reasons to fear Obama enacting more gun control laws. “They’ve looked at what happened in Louisiana during the hurricane, and what happened under the Clinton ban, and Obama’s sneaky tactics of trying to get things put in under a U.N. treaty, and as far as the gun owners, they don’t want any more of him. They’re scared of him,” Manning said. “Obama scared the hell out of everybody, and they have gone into a buying frenzy.”

On the state level, Manning says he doesn’t think Wyoming’s new open carry law has greatly affected sales of handguns. “Most of the concealed carry [buyers] that I see are people who already had concealed carry permits,” he said.

— For more on this subject, read “Wyoming to become fourth state allowing concealed guns without permit,” originally published by WyoFile on March 8, 2011.

— WyoFile reporter Gregory Nickerson is a University of Wyoming-trained historian and writer from Big Horn. He has worked on documentary films in Nicaragua, Yellowstone, and Philadelphia, and held jobs as a museum curator and hunting guide.

REPUBLISH THIS STORY: For details on how you can republish this story or other WyoFile content for free, click here.

— If you enjoyed this article and would like to see more quality Wyoming journalism, please consider supporting WyoFile: a non-partisan, non-profit news organization dedicated to in-depth reporting on Wyoming’s people, places and policy.

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Published on October 30, 2012

  • Brodie Farquhar

    Dear RLEmery,
    Here’s the 2004 article about Romney signing a gun control bill in Mass. It took me less than 30 seconds to find it via Google. http://www.iberkshires.com/story/14812/Romney-signs-off-on-permanent-assault-weapons-ban.html

  • RLEmery

    Ladies & Germs, we have a leftist moderator who cant stand the facts being posted.

    POISON PILL LEGISLATION IS A FACT.

    ROMNEY SIGNED LEGISLATION FOR WHAT YOU SAID WAS A GUN BAN BUT IN REALITY WAS SOMETHING ENTIRELY DIFFERENT UNLESS YOU CARE TO POST THE LAW BRODIE AND PROVE OTHERWISE, GET BACK TO US ON THAT ONE.

    OBAMA DID THE SAME THING FOR THE GUNS IN PARKS BECAUSE IT WAS ATTACHED TO THE CREDIT REFORM BILL.

    Sucks when the leftists have no facts to back up their positions and have to resort to childish censorship.

  • BHirsh

    Silly straw man.

    Just because the shark hasn’t eaten you yet doesn’t mean that he won’t, or that his inclination to do so doesn’t exist.

    Obama is on record as opposing the private ownership of handguns, and the rigid control of long guns, even the hunting variety. You can’t un-ring a bell.

  • RLEmery

    Demonizing all who dont worship at the alter like the Obamabots and ACORN is not misguided, it is insane.

  • Don

    Does anyone out there really believe that this Congress would ever reach an agreement on gun control?

    If Obama has a hidden agenda, it may be that he’s hoping gun right zealots will voluntarily bankrupt themselves by buying more weapons and more ammunition than they could possibly use in a lifetime.

  • DeweyV

    Over yonder in the Wonderland that Brodie alludes to, the right-wing 2nd Amendment acolytes believe Obama and the Lefties are coming for your guns.

    History and reality would say otherwise. Readers such as Rich should fear the right wing, the conservatives, those who support a strong military , defense posturing, and hyper-law enforcement. Them who beleive in a ” well regulated militia”. THOSE are the people most likely to ” come for your guns” , being but two steps away from fascism and totalitarianism. It won’t be the Dems and the Libs who will demand you to surrender your personal arsenal. Not at all. Look to your own. It takes little to turn a wardrobe of camo outdoor clothing and insulated boots into longlseeved brown shirts and jack boots, if the group-think cause is reckoned to be ” just” . It seldom is.

    Demonizing Obama and castigating all who do not worship at the altar of the NRA is wholly misguided.

  • Rich

    That certain kind of person would be anyone with an I.Q. above room
    temperature who had been paying the slightest bit of attention, because
    Obamas actions as a legislator spoke volumes about his feelings on the gun
    issue. Senator Obamas statements on the campaign trail werent any more
    reassuring. For example:
    Obama opposed a bill in the Illinois legislature which would have protected
    homeowners from weapons charges if they used an illegal gun in self-defense.
    In a primary debate in 2008, Obama the candidate stated that the second
    amendment confers an individual right, BUT (theres always but where the
    second amendment is concerned) the fact that it is an individual right does
    not mean that the state or local government cant constrain the exercise of
    that right. In addition, for a supposed constitutional scholar to state that
    the Bill of Rights confers rights, rather than protects pre-existing rights
    is also worrisome.
    When running for the Illinois senate in 1996, Obama most assuredly did fill
    out a questionnaire (despite his later claims that a staffer did it) in
    which he unequivocally supported a ban on the manufacture, sale and
    possession of handguns, a ban on the possession of assault weapons and
    waiting periods before purchasing a firearm.
    Need I mention the whole bitter clingers episode?
    Although he claimed to respect the second amendment, he also said that the
    D.C. gun ban (banning all handguns and operable long guns) was
    constitutional. When pressed for his rationale, he said there was nothing
    wrong with a community establishing their own reasonable, thoughtful gun
    control measure[s] while still respecting the second amendment. Did you
    catch that? A complete ban is his idea of a reasonable gun control measure.
    In the Illinois legislature, he supported licensing and registering gun
    owners as a measure to keep unlawful guns off the street. This purported
    constitutional scholar was apparently unaware that the supreme court has
    ruled that criminals dont need to register (and cant be punished for failing
    to register) their guns because it would be a violation of their right
    against self-incrimination.
    In 2000 Obama cosponsored a bill to limit gun purchases to one per month
    and in 2003 he voted in favor of HB 2579 which had the same one gun per
    month provision.
    According to a Chicago Defender article in December of 1999, Obama is
    proposing to make it a felony for a gun owner whose firearm was stolen from
    his residence which causes harm to another person if that weapon was not
    securely stored in that home.
    At an NAACP forum in 2007 Obama stated Weve got to make sure that
    unscrupulous gun dealers arent loading up vans and dumping guns in our
    communities, because we know theyre not made in our communities. What?!? Is
    that what he really thinks? That federally licensed gun dealers are loading
    up vehicles and selling guns out of the back in inner cities?
    In the Illinois senate he supported a confiscatory assault weapons ban
    which would have included semi-auto shotguns and even some pump, double and
    single barrel shotguns.
    As a Presidential candidate he called for passage of H.R. 6257, deceptively
    titled Assault Weapons Ban Reauthorization Act of 2008 which would have
    explicitly banned far more weapons than the Clinton AWB.
    As a Senator, Obama voted against prohibiting lawsuits against gun
    manufacturers and voted in favor of an amendment to that bill which would
    have banned most rifle ammunition, under the guise of banning armor-piercing
    ammunition.
    As a Senator Obama did not sign the amicus brief supporting the individual
    rights view in Heller v. DC.
    Obama voted to ban gun stores within five miles of a school or park, which
    would have eliminated most gun stores in America.
    He supported legislation to close the gun show loophole which would have
    imprisoned show organizers if a single person at a show offered a gun for
    sale privately.
    As a Senator, Obama stated he supported a federal ban on concealed carry
    laws and as a Presidential candidate he told the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review I
    am not in favor of concealed weapons, Obama said. I think that creates a
    potential atmosphere where more innocent people could (get shot during)
    altercations.
    He appointed 2 rabid anti-2nd amendment Supreme Court Jutices. One more and the 2nd amendment is meaningless. FACT! End of Story. Vote Obama vote your guns away.

  • Brodie Farquhar

    At the risk of causing NRA-supporters’ heads to seize up, the public record says that Gov. Mitt Romney signed a bill to limit assault weapons in Mass.
    We’ve stepped through the looking glass into Wonderland here: fear of someone who hasn’t limited gun rights in favor of someone who has!
    NRA: logic? We don’t need no stinkin’ logic!

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