Scott Brown, who is running for Senate in New Hampshire, the other day found himself under fire from a roomful of conservative activists — and sought to win them over by taking a surprising position: He suggested he has “no problem” with the idea of abolishing gun-free zones, a longtime priority of gun rights activists.
That’s way to the right of his previous rhetoric on guns — after the Newtown shooting, he supported an assault weapons ban — and it’s another sign of the sort of conservative stand GOP candidates must take to get through primaries.
The key moment comes at around the 12 minute mark on a video of an event last Tuesday with gun rights activists that was obtained by the Boston Globe. In its write-up, the Globe stresses that Brown was on the “defensive,” noting that Brown, who is now embroiled in a primary, tried to appear tougher on gun rights than he had in Massachusetts, where he supported an assault weapons ban as Senator before getting ousted by Elizabeth Warren.
The newsworthy part came when a gun rights advocate confronted Brown with the following: “Stop gun free zones — what do you think about that? Gun-free zones kill people. You wanna stop a bad guy with a gun? Get a good guy with a gun.”
“I have no problem — ” Brown said, before returning to the assault ban. He then added: “On gun free zones, I don’t disagree with you. I think that people should have the ability to carry their guns.”
“When you get down to the Senate in Washington, you’re gonna propose legislation to eliminate gun free zones?” the activist asked.
“I’m not proposing any new legislation,” Brown answered. “However, if in fact you and others have something like that that you want, I would love to come down with your attorneys, with Senator Ayotte, sit down and figure out a solution.”
Barring further clarification, that sounds like Brown is at least open to the idea of federal legislation that would ban gun free zones, such as in federal locations like post offices, as well as legislation banning states from creating gun free zones. Or, at least, that’s what Brown wanted this crowd to think, anyway.
In fairness, Brown then said this sort of thing is generally resolved on the state level, and said perhaps advocates should target New Hampshire state legislators, not a would-be Senator.
But then Brown was pressed by another attendee directly on whether he was open to doing away with the federal ban on guns in places like post offices. Brown said: “I’d have to do more research on it…I’d like to get your input and others, and find a solution.” This suggests he’s open to the idea, or wants this crowd to think he is.
A spokesperson for Senator Jeanne Shaheen, Brown’s target this fall, confirms to me that she opposes any measures abolishing gun free zones.
The broader story here revolves around the Democrats’ theory of this fall’s elections. As noted this morning, Dems continue to insist embattled incumbents will be able to fend off GOP challengers, in spite of the bad national environment, by turning the elections into a choice between two candidates. In Arkansas, the local press is noticing that Tom Cotton’s positions on Medicare and Social Security could enable Dem Senator Mark Pryor to prevail despite the hated health law. In Iowa, Republicans are reportedly worried that Joni Ernst’s now-infamous GOP primary ad featuring her waving around a handgun could hurt her among independents in a general election.
This isn’t to say Dems will campaign on gun control — they won’t. Rather, the point is that GOP Senate candidates have amassed positions on multiple issues — some are climate skeptics and have supported Personhood measures — which Dems hope will enable them to sharpen the overall contrast with GOP extremism in individual races and make it more likely that voters will see them as a choice between two candidates and visions.
Whether or not this will be enough for Dems to hold the Senate — it very well might not be — this Brown moment is instructive. It shows just how far in a conservative direction even a reputed moderate thinks he must lurch to win the GOP nod, even in a purple state.