Romney Wins Some Votes, If Not All Hearts, At NRA Meeting
Some 70,000 people are attending the National Rifle Association's annual convention in St. Louis this weekend. It's hard to find any who support Barack Obama.
But that doesn't mean gun owners are completely sold on Mitt Romney. He may be the presumptive Republican presidential nominee, but many NRA members still harbor some doubts.
"I'd really like to see someone more pro-gun, but if he's all we got, he's all we got," said Kenny Hoehgesang, a retired power plant worker from Schnellville, Ind.
Romney sought to dispel any lingering concerns about his support for some gun-control laws as Massachusetts governor during his address to the NRA on Friday. He described President Obama and his potential Supreme Court picks as threats to gun owners' rights, which he vowed to protect.
"This organization is sometimes called a single-issue group," Romney said, "and that is high praise when the single issue you're fighting for is freedom."
But Romney devoted relatively little time during his remarks to gun issues, instead hammering away at Obama for his handling of the economy.
That message should have appealed to Robert Yocklin, a security guard from Kansas City, Mo., who attended the meeting and says he regrets having supported Obama four years ago. But Yocklin said that Romney seemed to be "pandering to get conservative votes."
"I don't really feel that he's a supporter" of Second Amendment rights, Yocklin said.
That seemed to be a common sentiment among many NRA members, who worry that Romney is "wishy-washy on the gun issue," as Sean Cowan, a gun importer from Kansas City, Mo., put it.
Others expressed continuing devotion to former House Speaker Newt Gingrich or even former Pennsylvania Sen. Rick Santorum, who dropped out of the race Tuesday. They both spoke to the gathering on Friday, along with other prominent Republicans, including Texas Gov. Rick Perry.
But while some gun enthusiasts may remain grudging in their embrace of Romney, they say he's certainly preferable over Obama.
"He has some of the same values that I do, and Obama has none," said Joe Burdeau, a retired educator from Carlyle, Ill., who was visiting the sizable booth hosted by Smith & Wesson. "Look what we have now — Mr. Anti-Gun, who's probably never handled one and wouldn't know what to do with it," Burdeau added.
"Romney was not my first choice, but it seemed like he appealed to basic American values," said Ed Saint Sing, a food broker from Mooresville, N.C., after hearing Romney speak. "I was pretty impressed. I really was."
The NRA itself did not take sides during the GOP primary fight because the candidates were all "Second Amendment-friendly," as NRA President David Keene said in an interview.
But once the dust has fully settled, the NRA intends to offer its full backing to Romney as the GOP standard-bearer. Its members will come along, too, Keene said.
"The one thing that gun owners around the country know is that the incumbent is a real threat to their rights," he said. "Those who had questions about Romney are going to rally around because we have the greatest unifier in Barack Obama."