- Frank Cerabino Palm Beach Post Staff Writer
What does U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney think about gun control regulations?
Well, let’s go to the scorecard.
The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence has given Rooney a zero percent on its political scorecard while the National Rifle Association has given him an “A” with a 93 percent rating.
This might lead you to believe that Rooney is a real ally of the NRA and no friend of any legislative efforts to regulate guns.
But you’d be wrong. At least in spirit.
Sure, Rooney has spent his 10 years in Congress voting nearly in lockstep with legislation the NRA backs and writes. But his voting record is an act of political self-preservation rather than real conviction.
Rooney’s just another one of the untold number of sleeper-cell Republican lawmakers who’ve been cowed into obeying the gun lobby’s wildest commands while yearning for gun-control laws they are too timid to publicly support.
We know this now because Rooney got his last $10,500 campaign contribution from the gun-rights group in 2016, and now he that he has decided not to seek re-election to Congress, he’s willing to tarnish that once-precious “A” rating from the NRA.
“Look, all of this is about getting re-elected, and the bottom line is that the NRA has an extremely sophisticated ability to either help you or hurt you from being able to continue to call yourself ‘Congressman,’” Rooney told The New York Times’ Michael Barbaro.
In a half-hour interview that sometimes resembled a confession, Rooney told Barbaro on his podcast, The Daily, that to suggest even the most obvious and sensible gun control measures — such as banning bump stocks after the Las Vegas massacre last year — was to commit political suicide.
“It would be a huge problem politically, a huge problem,” Rooney said. “Every gun store back home would know about it, that Tom Rooney was trying to limit your Second Amendment rights. There would probably be mailers. There would probably be a huge political price to pay …”
“The reality of a district like mine is that if you don’t have the kind of support from groups like the NRA, it makes life very difficult.”
Rooney’s legislative district, from eastern Tampa Bay to the western shores of Lake Okeechobee, gave President Donald Trump a 27-point margin of victory in 2016.
So when Trump seemed to be open to a variety of gun control measures on Wednesday while talking to a bi-partisan group of congressional leaders in a White House session — even suggesting confiscation of guns before due process — Rooney wasn’t aghast at Trump’s new gun-control tack.
He was hopeful. Silently hopeful.
“If anything is going to happen with regard to guns and a bi-partisan bill, I do believe that President Trump is more popular with the people in districts like mine than the NRA is …” Rooney said.
“I think the president has an opportunity to take real leadership here, and I hope he does,” Rooney said. “And you’d see a lot of people step out and follow him if he does.”
Rooney means that he and other Republican lawmakers would feel that Trump could give them the political cover to disobey the NRA.
“If he’s able to have meaningful gun control legislation pass, I really think that would be a huge part of his legacy in a positive way,” Rooney said.
Rooney who hunts and has firearms in his home for personal protection told a story about going to a shooting range recently with an FBI agent. They were shooting 9-millimeter pistols while the guy shooting next to them was firing an AR-15, the semi-automatic rifle used in the mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland and other mass shootings.
Rooney heard the semi-automatic rifle before he saw it.
“Boom! Boom! Boom! And I’m like trying to talk to this guy about our targets and our shooting and I say, ‘What the hell is that?’ and he’s like, ‘That’s an AR-15.’
“Good Lord, it’s like a cannon,” Rooney said. “And so, I think you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t pause for a second and say, ‘What is the purpose of that gun, especially one with a bump stock on it?’”
The presidential leadership on gun control that Rooney has been secretly pining for seemed to evaporate a day after Trump’s bi-partisan meeting. Trump and Vice President Mike Pence met in private with NRA lobbyists on Thursday night, and everyone quickly reported that Trump’s gun-control ideas of Wednesday were already fading fast.
“Good (Great) meeting in the Oval Office tonight with the NRA!” Trump tweeted.
NRA lobbyist Chris Cox tweeted that Trump and Vice President Pence “support the Second Amendment, support strong due process and don’t want gun control.”
In other promising news for the NRA, the front-runner to fill the seat that Rooney is leaving is Greg Steube, the Florida senator who has been the NRA’s go-to guy for state legislation.
Steube has authored 14 gun bills during his time in the Florida Legislature, pushing for guns in airports, elementary schools and college campuses. He also sponsored a bill that calls for all Floridians to be able to display their weapons openly.
He has a 100 percent, “A+” rating from the NRA.