Based on what Republican gubernatorial candidate Larry Hogan has said about gun control, it's hard to see what the National Rifle Association would find appealing about him. He has said that although he opposed the strict new gun control legislation Gov. Martin O'Malley championed two years ago, he would not seek to repeal it. In various forums, he has said he supports background checks for all gun sales, wants tighter restrictions to prevent those suffering from mental illness from getting guns and would not seek to change Maryland's strict standards for issuing concealed-carry permits. Yet on Monday, the NRA's Political Victory Fund endorsed Mr. Hogan and lauded his "support and commitment to the Second Amendment."
In fairness, the NRA's endorsement appears to have more to do with its dislike of Mr. Hogan's Democratic opponent, Lt. Gov. Anthony G. Brown, whom the organization called "a true enemy of gun owners' rights." In fact, the NRA offered no specific reasons for its endorsement of Mr. Hogan but went on for three paragraphs about how awful it thinks Mr. Brown is. The group warns that Mr. Brown and his running mate, Ken Ulman, would not stop at the 2013 Firearms Safety Act but would work closely "with former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his elitist billionaire allies to further restrict gun rights in Maryland." The NRA gave Mr. Brown an F rating based on his record with the O'Malley administration; a Brown spokesman says the group didn't even bother to send him a questionnaire.
By contrast, the group gave Mr. Hogan an A- rating based on a questionnaire he submitted during the Republican primary, but what that means is not at all clear. During an interview with The Sun's editorial board last week, Mr. Hogan said he did not know the details of what his campaign's responses were to the NRA questionnaire and said he believed there to be a confidentially clause barring him from releasing it to the public. But he is under mounting pressure to do so. Maryland Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense and the Brady Campaign have been hounding him on the issue, and Governor O'Malley, in a rare bit of public involvement in this year's election, has started an online petition accusing Mr. Hogan of "trying to have it both ways" on the gun issue and urging him to release the questionnaire.
While we don't know what Mr. Hogan told the NRA, we do know what the group asked. Its Maryland questionnaire includes 27 questions, several of which are directly related to issues Mr. Hogan has been asked about during the campaign. It asks whether a candidate would support legislation to repeal: Maryland's new bans on the sale or purchase of assault weapons and/or large capacity magazines; the requirement that handgun purchasers be licensed and fingerprinted; the limit of one handgun purchase per 30 days; and the law requiring the state to conduct its own, more extensive background checks rather than relying on the federal system, among other things.
Unless the NRA grades on a serious curve, it's hard to imagine that Mr. Hogan could have replied in the negative on those questions and still gotten an A-.
It's possible that there's some sort of semantic game at work that could square Mr. Hogan's public pronouncements with NRA-friendly responses to the questionnaire. Mr. Hogan has said repeatedly that he would not seek to change Maryland's existing gun laws, but he hasn't said what he would do if, by some strange and unimaginable set of circumstances, the Democrat-dominated General Assembly took it upon itself to repeal them. That, of course is not going to happen.
Nonetheless, the matter deserves more explanation than the Hogan campaign has offered so far. The Washington Post recently reported that some gun rights activists say they were given private assurances by Mr. Hogan that he would appoint a state police superintendent who would make it easier to get concealed-carry permits and would take other pro-gun steps that do not require legislation. Mr. Hogan has said that isn't true. But the best way for Mr. Hogan to assure voters that he isn't talking out of both sides of his mouth would be to release a copy of the questionnaire. If he truly believes he is somehow prohibited from doing so, he should simply provide clear public responses to its questions now so that voters, and not just the NRA, can know exactly where he stands.
We realize this isn't the only issue in this race and that it isn't the one Mr. Hogan wants to be spending his time on. But it is important, and the easiest way for Mr. Hogan to get back to discussing the economic issues he has made the centerpiece of his campaign is to release the questionnaire.
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