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Louis Jacobson
By Louis Jacobson November 2, 2011

Jon Huntsman accuses Mitt Romney of flip-flopping on gun control

Former Utah Gov. Jon Huntsman uses a wind-up monkey to make fun of Mitt Romney for flip-flopping in a new  Web ad.

In another item we checked whether the ad's claim that Romney had flip-flopped on abortion was accurate. In this one we're checking the claim that he has switched his position on gun control.

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In one side-by-side video comparison, the ad shows video of Romney first saying, "We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts. I support them," and then saying, "And I would protect our Second Amendment rights to bear arms."

Clearly, the ad is charging Romney with flip-flopping on gun control. So we decided to see whether the charge is accurate.

First, let’s look at some of the things Romney has said about gun control.

• In 1994, when he was challenging Democratic Sen. Edward Kennedy, Romney supported two gun control measures -- the Brady Bill, which required background checks for gun purchases, and a ban on certain types of assault weapons. Both were strongly opposed by most gun-rights advocates.

In a July 1994 question-and-answer session with voters arranged by the Boston Herald, Romney "reaffirmed" his support for both measures, the newspaper said. "I don't think (the waiting period) will have a massive effect on crime, but I think it will have a positive effect," Romney said.

In a subsequent interview published on Sept. 23, 1994, Romney said, "I don't want special-interest groups making this their campaign. I don't want their money. I don't want their help. This is my race." In the interview, Romney specifically mentioned gun-rights advocates, acknowledging that his stands on the two gun-control measures would put him at odds with such groups.

"That's not going to make me the hero of the NRA," he said, referring to the National Rifle Association. "I don't line up with a lot of special interest groups."

• Then, in his 2002 race for governor, Romney said during a debate against against Democrat Shannon O'Brien, "We have tough gun laws in Massachusetts; I support them."

Fast-forwarding to the present, we couldn’t find much on Romney’s 2011 positions on gun control. The issues section of his website has nothing about it, and the one time the topic came up in a debate -- an attack by Texas Gov. Rick Perry on Sept. 22, 2011, in Orlando, Fla. -- Romney didn’t take the bait. Perry said, "I think Americans just don't know sometimes which Mitt Romney they're dealing with. Is it the Mitt Romney that was on the side of against the Second Amendment before he was for the Second Amendment?" But Romney instead chose to respond to Perry’s subsequent charge about his position on health care.

So we turned to statements Romney made during the 2008 presidential campaign, when he ran unsuccessfully for the GOP nomination.

• Addressing a group of National Rifle Association members by video on Sept. 10, 2007, Romney said, "Let me speak very directly and candidly about where I stand. I support the Second Amendment as one of the most basic and fundamental rights of every American. It's essential to our functioning as a free society, as are all the liberties enumerated in the Bill of Rights." He repeated that message later that month at a meeting of the National Shooting Sports Foundation.

• In a candidate questionnaire published by the Washington Post during the 2008 primary campaign, Romney said this:

"Q: Do you think gun control has an impact on crime rates in the United States?"

"Romney: The Second Amendment protects the individual right of lawful citizens to keep and bear arms. I strongly support this essential freedom, and I applaud the recent federal appeals court decision in Washington, D.C., which concluded that the Second Amendment protects an individualized right to keep and bear arms. As president, I will support that interpretation and protect the right of every law-abiding American to keep and use firearms. With respect to gun control laws, I believe we need to distinguish between law-abiding gun owners and criminals who use guns. Those who use a firearm during the commission of a crime must be punished severely. The key is to provide law enforcement with the resources they need and punish criminals, not burden lawful gun owners."

"Q: Do you think tighter restrictions should be in place for those buying a firearm?"

"Romney: No. I believe we need to focus on enforcing our current laws rather than creating new laws that burden lawful gun owners. I believe in safe and responsible gun ownership, and that anyone who exercises the right to keep and bear arms must do so lawfully and properly. I do not believe in a one-size-fits-all federal approach to gun ownership because people keep and use firearms for different reasons. Law-abiding citizens have a right to protect their homes and their families and as president, I will vigorously defend that right."

• According to the Boston Globe, Romney appeared on an Internet podcast, "The Glenn and Helen Show," and said that he hoped states would ease regulations on gun owners. He also expressed enthusiasm for guns and hunting. "I have a gun of my own," he was quoted as saying. "I go hunting myself. I'm a member of the NRA and believe firmly in the right to bear arms."

• On the Oct. 21, 2007, edition of CBS’ Face the Nation, host Bob Schieffer challenged Romney on the evolution of his gun-control position.

Schieffer said, "You once said, ‘We do have tough gun laws in Massachusetts, I support them, I won't chip away at them. I believe they protect us.’ Now you say you are a gun owner. You have joined the National Rifle Association, after saying at one point, ‘I don't line up with the National Rifle Association.’ Why would you join that group?"

Romney began by stating that he had the endorsement of the National Rifle Association during his run for governor, a claim he later had to back away from. He continued, "I support the NRA. I support Second Amendment rights, but I don't line up 100 percent with the NRA. They take some positions that are different than mine. But my positions are the same as my positions have been with regards to guns for a long, long time, and that is that I respect the right of people to bear arms, and whether that's for hunting or personal protection. ..."

It’s worth noting that between his 1994 and 2002 campaigns and the 2008 presidential campaign, Romney served a four-year term as governor of Massachusetts, during which he signed a major firearms-related bill.

A bill he signed in 2004 enacted a permanent ban on assault weapons -- reportedly the first such state law in the country. "These guns are not made for recreation or self-defense," the Globe quoted Romney as saying. "They are instruments of destruction with the sole purpose of hunting down and killing people."

Despite that provision -- usually a deal-breaker for gun-rights groups -- the measure received support from pro-gun groups because other provisions lengthened the terms of firearm ID cards and licenses to carry firearms. The Globe reported that during the 2008 campaign, Romney described the bill as a "consensus measure" and a "positive step."

Our ruling

The evidence largely supports the contention that Romney has flip-flopped on gun rights, particularly in his tone. Romney’s message during the 1994 and 2002 campaigns was that he was a strong supporter of gun control measures, while in the 2008 president campaign, he played up his pro-Second Amendment credentials and actively sought support from the National Rifle Association and other gun-owner groups.

Substantively, the gap -- at least as of the 2008 campaign -- was somewhat narrower. He’s been vague about specific legislation he’d support, and in the interview with Schieffer, Romney acknowledged that "I support Second Amendment rights, but I don't line up 100 percent with the NRA. They take some positions that are different than mine." Still, between his early campaigns and his 2008 presidential run, Romney does appear to have shifted his views. On balance, we rate Huntsman’s claim Mostly True.

Our Sources

Jon Huntsman, "Backflip" (web ad), Oct. 28, 2011
Business Insider, "Huntsman Attacks Romney With Back-Flipping Toy Monkey," Oct. 28, 2011

2008 Republican presidential candidates’ questionnaires provided to the Washington Post

Boston Herald, "Dem-backed crime bill has Romney's support," May 29, 1994 (accessed via Lexis-Nexis)

Boston Herald, "Herald panel grills Romney on crime," Aug. 1, 1994 (accessed via Lexis-Nexis)

Boston Globe, "Lakian vows to fight gun control," Aug. 19, 1994 (accessed via Lexis-Nexis)

Boston Herald, "Mitt rejects right-wing aid," Sept. 23, 1994 (accessed via Lexis-Nexis)

Boston Globe, "Romney retreats on gun control; Ex-governor woos Republican votes," Jan. 14, 2007 (accessed via Lexis-Nexis)

National Rifle Association-Institute for Legislative Action, "Presidential Candidates Ask for NRA Support," Oct. 10, 2007

Mitt Romney, interview on CBS' Face the Nation, Oct. 21, 2007 (accessed via Lexis-Nexis)

National Shooting Sports Foundation, "Presidential Hopefuls Court Gun Owners, Industry," undated, 2007

Transcript of Fox News-Google Republican presidential debate in Orlando, Fla., Sept. 22, 2011 (accessed via Lexis-Nexis)

PolitiFact, "Romney used to support gun control," Jan. 28, 2008

PolitiFact, "Romney supported gun control in previous runs," Oct. 24, 2007

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More by Louis Jacobson

Jon Huntsman accuses Mitt Romney of flip-flopping on gun control

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