Appearing before the National Rifle Association, Mitt Romney was accorded the reception that might be expected for a Republican candidate who used to brag about how his positions on gun issues “don’t line up with the NRA” but now says, “If we are going to safeguard our Second Amendment, it is time to elect a president who will defend the rights President Obama ignores or minimizes. I will.”
The response was relatively warm but more than a little bit skeptical.
The Los Angeles Times was gentle in its description, suggesting that the now all-but-certain Republican nominee “may not have been the sentimental favorite among the speakers at the National Rifle Association’s annual convention.”
So who did they love?
The Republican governor of Wisconsin was accorded a hero’s welcome when he appeared Friday before the NRA’s “Celebration of American Values” forum to accept the group’s “Defender of Freedom” award.
And he handed them raw meat. “I am proud to have a rifle, a shotgun and even a bow,” Walker told the crowd of 5,500 people in St. Louis.
But the real winning line was Walker’s absolute embrace of the state-based “kill at will” laws such as the castle doctrine measure he signed in Wisconsin and Florida’s “stand your ground” law. Such laws have become controversial since it was revealed that Florida’s “stand your ground” law had complicated the investigation and prosecution of the shooting of teenager Trayvon Martin. The castle doctrine and stand your ground create new levels of immunity for gunmen, complicating the work of police and prosecutors.
Walker, a longtime member of the American Legislative Exchange Council, which has worked with the NRA to promote castle doctrine and stand your ground laws, was honored for signing concealed carry and castle doctrine laws and then delivered a speech laced with gun-play rhetoric.
“I have become a target,” declared Walker, who was forced to face a June 5 recall election after close to 1 million Wisconsinites signed petitions demanding an accountability moment. “The advocates of big government view me as a threat. They want to take me out.”
Walker told the NRA: “If I fail in June, it sets us back at least a decade, if not a generation.”
The governor of Wisconsin is in political trouble largely because of his attacks on labor rights, which had its roots in “model legislation” written by ALEC. But he did not stop there. A member of ALEC during his decade as a Wisconsin Assembly member, Walker worked closely with ALEC leaders in Washington, their corporate and special-interest sponsors, and ALEC members in the Legislature to advance many variations on ALEC’s “model legislation” — from a restrictive voter ID law to corporate tax cuts to tort reforms as well as the castle doctrine legislation that was inspired by Florida’s law.
The latter law was cited by a Wisconsin prosecutor when he declined to pursue charges against the killer of Bo Morrison, a 20-year-old African-American man who was shot while fleeing a party in Slinger. The Morrison killing, which took place around the same time as the shooting of Trayvon Martin, was the subject of protests in West Bend, Madison, Milwaukee and other Wisconsin communities. State Rep. Chris Taylor, a Madison Democrat and a lawyer who was outspoken in her opposition to the measure last year, now says: “It is heartbreaking that the Legislature allowed this reckless law to go forward and now a young man is dead. This law encourages people to resort to vigilantism and use deadly force instead of calling the police.”
A national protest campaign has focused on ALEC in the weeks following the outcry over the Trayvon killing and the broadening recognition that ALEC and the NRA have promoted the passage of similar laws in dozens of states across the country. Nine major corporations, including Coca-Cola, Pepsi and Kraft, have exited ALEC and some political leaders have begun to distance themselves from the group and its agenda.
But not Walker. He and his lieutenant governor, Rebecca Kleefisch, who also faces a Wisconsin recall election, have dismissed criticisms of ALEC and allied interest groups, such as the NRA.
Indeed, Walker told the crowd at the NRA convention that he was making another out-of-state trip because: “I am asking for your help.”
John Nichols is the associate editor of The Capital Times, Wisconsin’s progressive newspaper.