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U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance was elected to Congress, then took a hard right turn on his position on gun control, according to Upendra Chivukula, a Democratic state Assemblyman who hopes to unseat Lance in November.
"One of the key things about Leonard Lance is that in 2008, when you look at [the] Project Vote Smart website, he was not for guns," Chivukula said in an Aug. 5 interview with the liberal blog Blue Jersey. "Now he has gone too far to the right, saying that you can carry concealed weapons in national parks, which is mostly dangerous for the people who are visiting the national park."
Lance, a former state senator, has faced criticism for shedding more moderate views since he was sworn in to the House of Representatives in 2009. So here, PolitiFact New Jersey wondered if Lance (R-7th Dist.) was "not for guns" in 2008 but then said, "you can carry concealed weapons in national parks."
The congressman’s position on the latter half of that claim is clear: he supports it. In May 2009, Lance voted to repeal the ban on visitors possessing firearms on federal public land, as long as gun owners comply with the laws of the state where the park is located.
Lance touts that vote on his campaign website in a section on Second Amendment rights.
But was Lance "not for guns" just a year prior to that vote, in 2008? That’s a broad, unsupported claim that suggests Lance opposed firearms and then reversed his position.
We found no evidence that Lance advocated against guns.
Joey Novick, Chivukula’s campaign manager, pointed us to a survey from Project Vote Smart, a nonpartisan group that tracks where candidates stand on key issues, to support Chivukula’s claim.
In 2007 -- as Lance was vying for another term in the New Jersey Senate -- he filled out the survey, which asks candidates to note which positions they would support in a number of areas if elected.
In a section labeled "gun issues," Lance indicated he would "maintain and strengthen the enforcement of existing state restrictions on the purchase and possession of guns." He also noted his support to "require a license for gun possession."
But that doesn’t prove Lance was "not for guns," only that he supported enforcing New Jersey’s current laws.
Todd Mitchell, Lance’s chief of staff, said that Lance has always been a strong supporter of the Second Amendment, pointing to a number of "pro-gun" votes during his time as a state legislator. Also, Mitchell noted that in 2007 the state chapter of the NRA endorsed Lance’s re-election bid.
"This is a feeble attempt by the Chivukula campaign to distract voters from Upendra's dismal fiscal record as a member of the Democratic leadership in Trenton," Mitchell said.
Novick said Chivukula’s overall point was that in "many issues––including guns and Second Amendment issues, Leonard Lance has moved to extreme positions that are more right wing."
Chivukula said "one of the key things about Leonard Lance is that in 2008, when you look at [the] Project Vote Smart website, he was not for guns. Now he has gone too far to the right, saying that you can carry concealed weapons in national parks."
There’s an element of truth to this claim: Lance voted to repeal a ban on carrying weapons in national parks in 2009, as long as the gun owner complies with the laws of the state where the park is located.
But to suggest Lance flip-flopped in taking that position is misleading.
The survey Chivukula’s campaign cited shows Lance, as a state legislator, favored enforcing New Jersey’s current laws. To say Lance was "not for guns" is wrong.
We rate this statement Mostly False.
To comment on this ruling, go to NJ.com.
BlueJersey.com, Engineering an Upset Victory, Aug. 5, 2012
Project Vote Smart, Rep. Leonard Lance, accessed Aug. 6, 2012
Project Vote Smart, Rep. Leonard Lance: Issue Positions, accessed Aug. 6, 2012
Phone and e-mail interviews with Joey Novick, campaign manager for Upendra Chivukula, Aug. 7 & 8, 2012
Interview with Todd Mitchell, chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Leonard Lance, Aug. 8, 2012
E-mail interview with Scott Bach, president of the Association of New Jersey Rifle & Pistol Clubs, Aug. 8, 2012
Leonard Lance for U.S. Congress, Second Amendment Rights, accessed Aug. 6, 2012
The Star-Ledger, Sierra Club to remain neutral in the 7th; Other groups also struggle with their endorsements, Oct. 26, 2009, accessed via Nexis on Aug. 6, 2012
The Star-Ledger, Challenger in 23rd targets assemblywoman's votes, Oct. 29, 1999, accessed via Nexis on Aug. 6, 2012
The Star-Ledger, The curious transformation of N.J. Congressman Leonard Lance, May 22, 2011
The Library of Congress, Bill Text Versions: 111th Congress (2009-2010): H.R.627, accessed Aug. 7, 2012
The Washington Post, National Parks Gun Law Takes Effect in February, May 22, 2009
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