WASHINGTON, D.C.—Governor John Kasich’s hopes that he had overcome the anti-gun reputation he had earned for supporting the Clinton Gun Ban in 1994 may now be dashed, after he told two separate Sunday talk shows that he is considering nominating a Supreme Court justice who might abolish the Second Amendment.
While Kasich often calls himself a conservative when running in GOP primaries, those familiar with his record say he is the epitome of an establishment moderate. He joined Obamacare by forcing through its Medicaid expansion over the opposition of the Ohio legislature, supports Common Core, tells conservatives that they need to drop opposition to same-sex marriage, and even believes that Christian bakers who still support traditional marriage should be required to bake cakes for same-sex weddings that violate their faith.
But in recent years, one issue on which Kasich had followed the conservative line is the right to keep and bear arms. In a testament to the National Rifle Association’s political prowess and strategic planning, there are few parts of the country where Republicans can win primaries without pledging support for the Second Amendment. The same holds true even for Democrats in the general elections of many states.
This was a problem for Kasich, because in 1994—before the NRA conclusively proved they had mastered the ability to mobilize gun-rights supporters—Kasich voted for the Clinton Gun Ban. Although called by the poll-tested term “assault weapons ban,” this legislation outlawed over a dozen standard-issue firearms, specifically ones that had outward features that gave them an appearance that Bill Clinton and his allies found easy to demonize.
The NRA surged as never before after that bill became law, and the Clinton Gun Ban partly led to one of the most catastrophic election cycles Democrats had ever seen. The GOP gained a majority in the U.S. House for the first time in forty years, and Republicans took control of the U.S. Senate as well.
Kasich kept his congressional seat, but there was no way he could erase his vote.
Instead of saying he opposes gun bans because they violate the Second Amendment, Kasich currently says he no longer supports them because the bans he has seen “are not effective,” leaving open the possibility that he could support new gun bans if he thinks one would be effective.
But as the years passed and Kasich did not support any new gun-control bills, this incident faded from memory. Gun owners became less concerned about Kasich’s former opposition to gun rights.
Until last week, when Kasich told CBS’s Face the Nation, and separately told NBC’s Meet the Press, that he would consider nominating Judge Merrick Garland to take the Supreme Court seat of Justice Antonin Scalia, the famous author of the historic Second Amendment case District of Columbia v. Heller.
But the NRA strongly opposes Garland’s nomination to the Supreme Court. Chief lobbyist Chris Cox explains that Scalia’s death “could result in the end of individual gun ownership in the United States,” discussing Garland’s record, and concluding that it shows he will join the other liberal justices to “overturn Heller … at the first opportunity.”
After Kasich’s statement supporting Garland, NRA members are looking at the Buckeye State’s governor with a skeptical eye. (After one of the interviews he issued a short retraction that NBC’s Chuck Todd mentioned on the air, but gun owners seem unconvinced by what they regard as a halfhearted attempt at political damage control.)
Kasich has not given any major speeches about the importance of nominating conservative judges to the federal bench. Taken with his statements of support for what most Republicans regard as a liberal Democrat Supreme Court nominee, and his flip-flop on gun bans, there is a growing chance that Kasich could lose crucial gun-owner votes in the remaining GOP primaries.
Ken Klukowski is legal editor for Breitbart News. Follow him on Twitter @kenklukowski.