Sen. John McCain spoke to the National Rifle Association in Louisville last Friday, and the reaction seemed mixed. I had a few thoughts of my own after watching his speech, which was very similar to the address he gave the organization in September in Washington, D.C. when he was trying to draw distinctions between his record and those of Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney.
First, featuring Sen. McCain at their convention as their potential endorsee for President shows how tough a political year the NRA is facing in 2008.
'A' rated candidates like Gov. Mike Huckabee and Sen. Fred Thompson dropped out of the Republican race long ago, and former U.S. Rep. Bob Barr - an 'A-plus' rated NRA Board Member and possible Libertarian nominee - doesn't seem to be getting much respect from the NRA leadership. Instead they seem to be settling for 'C-plus' rated Sen. McCain, someone they once called "one of the premier flag carriers for the enemies of the Second Amendment."
Making a 'C-plus' student the NRA valedictorian shows how much they're really 'grading on the curve' this Presidential election year.
Second, while I was happy to see Sen. McCain reaffirm his support for closing the gun show loophole, if he truly wants to work on issues on a bipartisan basis (as he said in his speech in Columbus, Ohio last week) and show some leadership, he should give a speech on the Senate floor like the one he gave in 2004 on the gun show loophole. With support from Senators Clinton and Obama on this issue, were McCain to cosponsor the legislation and help take the lead - and especially bring along the NRA - the gun show loophole could be closed this year.
Third, while Sen. McCain talks about fighting terrorists abroad, he proposes little to help keep us safe at home. He opposes bans on military style weapons, waiting periods, and legal accountability for negligent gun manufacturers and dealers. Instead, other than closing the gun show loophole, all he proposes is 'self-reliance.' Is that all he can suggest to communities facing more and more gun violence?
Finally, Sen. McCain's critique of "activist judges" who frustrate "the will of the people" sounds a little strained after he highlighted his support for overturning the will of the DC voters and elected officials regarding the District of Columbia's gun restrictions. Judicial activism can cross ideological, partisan and issue-based lines. Sen. McCain needs to be clear on why some judicial activism is bad and some is good - or whether it just depends on what he thinks of the result.
It is too early to tell whether he will ultimately garner the NRA endorsement, but it is clear that both Sen. McCain and the National Rifle Association make for strange bedfellows.