In New Hampshire, nearly half of the state’s residents own guns. Republican voters have a notorious libertarian streak and resent government interference and control, and only 24 percent favor more strict gun laws.
This is also the first presidential cycle since Democrats fully embraced gun control as an agenda item. President Obama almost got a universal-background-check bill through the Senate and has signed over 20 executive orders that tighten federal restrictions on gun ownership. One of every four commercials aired by Hillary Clinton’s campaign has been about gun laws.
So why aren’t Republican candidates talking about much gun control?
In no campaign has protecting gun rights become a main theme. Every Republican candidate will surely mention it—most will give a passing nod to protecting the Second Amendment and undoing Obama’s executive orders—but campaigning in New Hampshire has concluded without guns becoming a prime red-meat issue.
One easy explanation is that most of the candidates basically agree on gun control. Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and Jeb Bush all get good ratings from the National Rifle Association and don’t have any major blemishes on their record to attack.
Chris Christie and John Kasich are two exceptions, but neither has been enough of a factor to draw in the race much incoming fire. Christie has a C rating from the NRA, which graded on a Republican curve is more like an F. Kasich got an actual F in 1994 for supporting the assault-weapons ban as a congressman. He’s since rehabbed his grade to an A, but gun activists have long memories.
“None of them are horrible, except Kasich and Christie. They’re a couple of gun-banners,” said Alan Rice, vice president and training director of the New Hampshire Firearms Coalition. “The other ones, it’s the level of how far they’ll go.”
Rice’s group is an ally of the Gun Owners of America, the no-compromise national organization that bills itself as to the right of the NRA. Gun Owners of America has endorsed Cruz for president, and while Rice’s group has not made an endorsement, he said Cruz has led the pack on gun rights.
“Ted Cruz wears it as a badge. He’s very comfortable meeting with firearms owners, talking about firearms, talking about the Second Amendment, talking about what the founders intended,” Rice said.
At a Monday town hall in Barrington, Cruz promised to “protect the Second Amendment” and joked that “One of the great things about the Granite State is that y’all define gun control the same way we do in Texas: hit what you’re aiming at.”