It's no secret that Republican Presidential candidate Rick Perry likes guns. What has not been known is how steeped he is in a radical pro-gun ideology that most Americans, and most gun owners, would find puzzling and dangerous.
A recent tip-off was his reaction to a reporter's question about whether he carries a concealed weapon while campaigning. Instead of dismissing the question as absurd, he smiled and refused to say. Instead, he remarked, "That's why they call it concealed." If Perry is willing to entertain the idea that Presidential candidates should carry guns at emotionally charged political events, what other crazy gun ideas lurk beneath that impressive head of hair?
In our new report, Gunslinger: Rick Perry's Reckless Record on Guns, the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence uncovers years of evidence that Governor Perry is so committed to gun extremism that he long ago lost contact with common sense on this life-and-death issue.
First, Perry has an attitude problem. I've met many gun owners in my years with the Brady organization. Most of them feel the great burden of responsibility that goes with gun ownership. They approach the possession of a deadly weapon with a sense of great seriousness and humility. Perry's rhetoric about guns, on the other hand, reflects a strutting arrogance.
In his book, Fed Up!, he explains why he would "never consider living in Massachusetts," because that State elects people like Ted Kennedy, while "Texans, on the other hand, elect folks like me. You know the type, the kind of guy who goes jogging in the morning, packing a Ruger .380 with laser sights and loaded with hollow-point bullets, and shoots a coyote that is threatening his daughter's dog. We like that our law-abiding citizens carry guns down here."
Perry was terribly pleased with himself for winning his battle with a coyote. He told a reporter that he left the coyote where it fell. "He became mulch," said the Governor. He did, however, explain that he carries his Ruger loaded with hollow point bullets when he jogs because he's "afraid of snakes," an admission that doesn't quite fit the macho gunslinger image he is anxious to project.
Perry's cavalier attitude toward lethal weaponry also is reflected in a speech he made at a Dallas gun store last year. While handling a Ruger handgun, he became animated about the benefits of laser sights (which appear to be a particular obsession of Perry's): "I will highly recommend that you put the crimson laser sight on it. I'm thinking you may not have had that much experience, so I'm going to help you out a little bit. You just shoot where the dot is." Worried that your inexperience with guns may cause you to hit an unintended target? The magic laser dot is all you need.
- Perry doesn't believe in "gun-free school zones" even for elementary schools. In 2008, Perry suggested it would be a good idea for school teachers, even those who teach kindergarten, to carry lethal weapons at school.
- Perry thinks guns should be part of the educational environment all the way through college. He supports legislation to force colleges and universities to allow students to carry concealed guns on campus. Here Perry can claim little support even in Texas. A January, 2011 poll showed that 67% of registered voters in Texas oppose "guns on campus" legislation. In fact, the student body of Perry's alma mater, Texas A&M, rejected the idea by a referendum vote of 57% to 43%. Perry was an Aggie cheerleader in college, but he's leading no cheers on this issue. The legislation has failed twice in Texas. Similar bills have been defeated 63 times in 32 states since 2007.
- There is no doubt that, if he could, Perry would completely dismantle federal gun laws. In Fed Up!, he states his firm conviction that Congress lacked the constitutional authority to pass the Gun Control Act of 1968, even the statute's prohibition of gun possession by felons. Presumably, under his view, the Brady Act -- which has stopped over two million felons and other dangerous individuals from buying guns over-the-counter -- also would be invalidated. If you think it's reasonable for the feds to regulate machine guns, Perry is not your man.
- Since Governor Perry has suggested there may come a time when Texas should consider seceding from the Union, it should be no surprise that he also thinks states have the constitutional authority to simply "opt out" of federal gun laws. He supports radical laws like Montana's "Firearms Freedom Act" - struck down by a federal court last year - that purport to exempt guns made and used only within a state from basic federal requirements, such as the mandate to stamp guns with serial numbers to allow crime guns to be traced, or that guns be made so they cannot evade metal detectors.
- Perry signed legislation in Texas allowing people to carry loaded guns in their cars without a permit, which one Dallas police officer complained was "letting drug dealers with Glocks under the seat go and say have a nice day. In the past we could have charged them at least with a weapons violation and confiscated the guns." For Perry, you can be tough on crime, as long as you're not tough on guns.
Rick Perry may turn President Obama into a gun control advocate after all.
Dennis Henigan is the Acting President of the Brady Campaign and author of Lethal Logic: Exploding the Myths that Paralyze American Gun Policy (Potomac Books 2009). Previous blogs by Dennis Henigan are also posted at the Brady Campaign's Brady Blog.