In an October 16 column, Washington Times senior opinion editor Emily Miller praised Mitt Romney's opposition to gun violence prevention legislation while fearmongering about President Obama' s support for an assault weapons ban. But Miller did not acknowledge that Mitt Romney has been a proponent of assault weapons bans -- as recently as the last time that he ran for president.
Criticizing former Supreme Court Justice John Paul Stevens for backing some gun restrictions, Miller warned that Obama “would put another liberal justice -- or three -- on the bench if given a second term.” Miller presented Romney in sharp contrast to Justice Stevens, and reprinted Romney's claim that his “Sportsmen for Romney” coalition, whose members include representatives of the National Rifle Association and the gun industry, “will have a friend in the White House” if he becomes president. Obama, who has not enacted any new restrictions on firearms while president, was characterized by Miller as “an outspoken gun-control advocate before he ran for president.”
By presenting Romney as a vigorous defender of gun rights, while attacking Obama on the issue, Miller effictively hid Romney's own well documented past support for rigorous gun violence prevention measures.
During a February 18, 2007 interview with ABC's George Stephanopoulos, Romney was asked to reconcile his support for an assault weapons ban and the Brady background check law with his then-recent decision to join the National Rifle Association.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Let's talk about guns. You were supportive of the Brady Bill, the handgun waiting period in the past. You sign an assault weapon ban into law, and you said in the past, I don't line up with the NRA. Now you -
ROMNEY: Well, on that, on that issue.
STEPHANOPOULOS: Now you're a member of the NRA.
ROMNEY: Yes. And I - and I know the NRA does not support an assault weapon ban, so I don't line up on that particular issue with the NRA, either does President Bush. He likewise says he supported an assault weapon ban. [This Week via Nexis, 2/18/07]
During a 2002 debate, gubernatorial candidate Romney declared, “We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts; I support them. I won't chip away at them; I believe they protect us and provide for our safety.” [The Boston Globe, 1/14/07]
And he did exactly that as governor. In a July 1, 2004 press release titled “Romney Signs Off On Permanent Assault Weapons Ban,” Romney explained the rationale behind signing the ban into law, including his belief that assault weapons are “instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people”:
In a move that will help keep the streets and neighborhoods of Massachusetts safe, Governor Mitt Romney today signed into law a permanent assault weapons ban that forever makes it harder for criminals to get their hands on these dangerous guns.
“Deadly assault weapons have no place in Massachusetts,” Romney said, at a bill signing ceremony with legislators, sportsmen's groups and gun safety advocates. “These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense. They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people.”
Like the federal assault weapons ban, the state ban, put in place in 1998, was scheduled to expire in September. The new law ensures these deadly weapons, including AK-47s, UZIs and Mac-10 rifles, are permanently prohibited in Massachusetts no matter what happens on the federal level.
The leading Massachusetts gun advocacy group, Gun Owners Action League (GOAL), was furious with Romney over the new law. Its own press release titled “Firearm Reform Bill Signed, Romney Takes Opportunity to Betray Gun Owners,” attacked Romney for lining up with Democratic gun violence prevention stalwarts Ted Kennedy and John Kerry on the assault weapons issue. GOAL encouraged its members “to contact Governor Mitt Romney and Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey and express their outrage with their betrayal of gun owners in Massachusetts.”
If voters are confused about Romney's position on guns, the National Rifle Association is partly to blame. In a recent interview with the NRA, the gun rights organization did not press Romney to expand on his previous stances when he said, “I do not support any additional laws to restrict the right to keep and bear arms.”
Chris Cox, the NRA's chief lobbyist, who interviewed Romney, asked leading questions such as, “As governor, you signed a major bill reforming Massachusetts' gun registration and licensing laws. Some in the media and elsewhere claim this bill was a reauthorization of the semi-auto ban in Massachusetts. What's your response?” In response, Romney claimed that he was “proud to support legislation that expanded the rights of gun owners.”
The NRA's media arm, NRA News, has also engaged in historical revisionism. On October 2, NRA News host Cam Edwards told listeners that Massachusetts gun advocates supported Governor Romney's gun policy, an untruth that the candidate himself repeated in last night's debate.