Republican Platform on Guns: What Would Reagan Say?

This week Jim Brady, former press secretary to Ronald Reagan, eloquently called on the Republican Party to reconnect with the true legacy of Ronald Reagan on the gun issue and work with Democrats to support sensible gun laws. He reminded Republicans that President Reagan not only supported the Brady Bill and the now-expired federal assault weapon law, "but worked actively to assure their passage." The platform adopted by the Republican Convention shows how far the party has strayed from the Reagan legacy by selling its soul to the extremist leadership of the National Rifle Association.

During the Reagan Era, Republicans prided themselves on being the "law and order" party. Now the party follows the NRA in openly opposing measures demanded by law enforcement to protect the safety of officers and the citizens they are sworn to protect. The platform expressly opposes restoration of the assault weapon law, a measure consistently supported by national law enforcement organizations, including the Fraternal Order of Police and the International Association of Chiefs of Police. The party also opposes measures "limiting the capacity of [ammunition] clips or magazines." No limitations? Apparently the Republican Party has no problem with easy access to 100-round ammunition magazines of the kind used to such deadly effect in the Aurora, Colorado mass shooting and no problem with police officers facing such firepower on the streets.

Reagan-era Republicans saw themselves as the party protecting state prerogatives against an overbearing federal government. Its current platform, however, supports NRA legislation pending in Congress that would undercut existing state restrictions on concealed carry of guns. It would allow individuals with carry permits from states with permissive laws to carry their guns in states with more stringent laws. Principled protectors of state prerogatives would fight to allow states to enforce the gun restrictions they see as necessary to protect their citizens, not block enforcement of those restrictions against residents of other states. By supporting this federal weakening of state gun laws, the party has aligned itself with a position that is decisively unpopular with the American people. In one survey conducted jointly by Republican and Democratic pollsters for Mayors Against Illegal Guns, 74 percent of voters agreed that "each state should decide for themselves" what restrictions should be imposed on concealed weapons.

As Jim Brady told the Republican Convention, "Democrats and Republicans have come together in my lifetime to prevent gun tragedies." They must do so again, in the name of searching for new solutions to gun violence that are supported by the vast majority of Americans, whether they own guns or not. A recent survey by GOP pollster Frank Luntz found that 87 percent of gun owners, including 74 percent of those who belong to the NRA, support extending Brady background checks to all gun sales.

As the American people continue to be sickened by the now-regular public ritual of mass shootings, as well as the daily toll of 32 Americans murdered every day with guns, there is simply no excuse for the leaders of either major political party to pretend there is some insurmountable partisan or ideological divide that prevents us from coming together to find solutions.

Having seen their party renounce the Reagan legacy on guns and adopt a platform that surrenders their most basic principles to a slavish adherence to gun lobby extremism, Republicans should follow Jim Brady in telling their nominee that "We are better than this." They can start by signing the petition at How gratifying it would be if Mitt Romney would show that he is better than this as well.

For more information, see Dennis Henigan's Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy (Potomac Books 2009).