Three years ago, an essayist in The Atlantic declared that conservatives had lost the culture war on guns in light of changing attitudes after school shootings in Florida, Connecticut and elsewhere.
But support for the Second Amendment remains a winning issue for Republicans, and lately for Republican women.
From newly elected congresswomen in Colorado and South Carolina, to the woman occupying the governor’s mansion in South Dakota, some rising stars in the GOP are at home on the firing range or in camouflage in the woods. And they make sure that their constituents know it, through posts on social media.
“This is how we do social distancing in South Dakota,” Gov. Kristi Noem said in a Twitter post accompanied by video of her shooting a pheasant soaring over a corn field.
Rep. Nancy Mace, of South Carolina, recently posted a photo taken while she was shooting at paper targets, saying that she needs to practice positioning her trigger finger.
And a newly elected U.S. representative from Colorado made headlines internationally for arguing that members of Congress should be able to carry guns at the Capitol, a position that will likely be solidified by the violent intrusion into the legislative chambers by President Donald Trump’s supporters on Jan. 6.
Here’s why guns still matter to Republicans on the hunt for votes, and a look at the GOP women who are using firearm knowledge to their advantage in their political careers.
Let me tell you why I WILL carry my Glock to Congress.— Lauren Boebert (@laurenboebert) January 4, 2021
Government does NOT get to tell me or my constituents how we are allowed to keep our families safe.
I promise to always stand strong for our 2nd Amendment rights.https://t.co/E75tYpdN4B pic.twitter.com/qg7QGenrNo
Force of the Constitution
The official platform of the Republican Party supports lawful gun ownership to enable Americans “to exercise their God-given right of self-defense for the safety of their homes, their loved ones, and their communities.” Among other policies, the party opposes federal licensing and supports states that allow concealed carry, even across state lines.
Newly elected Colorado Rep. Lauren Boebert echoed those beliefs in a recent statement on the debate over whether members of Congress should be able to carry guns on Capitol grounds, as currently allowed.
“I’m a 5-foot tall, 100-pound mom with four children and will be walking to work and serving in one of the most dangerous cities in the U.S.,” Boebert wrote. “I choose to defend my family and my life with all of the force the Constitution provides.”
Her’s was the first of 83 signatures on a letter sent to House leadership objecting to what Boebert called a “gun grab” proposed by Democrats.
Members of the public aren’t allowed to bring guns into the Capitol complex, even if they have a concealed carry permit in their own state. But a special provision has allowed members of Congress to do so since 1967, despite efforts by some Democrats to change the law, both this year and two years ago, The Washington Post reported. The only restriction is that they can’t take guns into the House or Senate chambers.
Boebert said little publicly about her stance in the aftermath of Wednesday’s violence at the Capitol, during which a Trump supporter was shot and eventually died. But Thursday, she was praised in The Federalist in an essay by Tristan Justice entitled “Capitol Riots Prove Lauren Boebert is Exactly Right to Carry in Congress.”
For Boebert, the Second Amendment isn’t a secondary issue. She got into politics after publicly confronting former Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke who famously said “Hell, yes, we’re going to take away your AR-15s.” (“Hell, no, you’re not,” she said.)
Boebert lives in a town called Rifle and runs a restaurant called Shooters Grill, which features entrees such as “Bump Stock Corned Beef Hash,” the “M16 Burrito” and the “Swiss & Wesson” burger.
Boebert’s Twitter profile shows a photo of her leg with a holstered handgun on her hip. A political novice just two years ago, she beat a five-term incumbent to win the Republican nomination to win a Colorado congressional seat and now has 395,000 followers on Twitter.
‘Less Covid, more hunting’
When South Dakota’s Kristi Noem posts pictures of herself hunting on social media, she does so knowing that many of her fellow Republicans are sportsmen and sportswomen, too.
Multiple studies have found that hunters are disproportionately Republican. According to one national poll, 42% of hunters and fishers identify as Republican, compared to 32% of independents and 18% of Democrats, Scientific American reported.
Noem is not only a hunter, but has owned a hunting lodge with her husband, according to her Facebook page. On Twitter recently, she celebrated an increase in the number of hunting and fishing licenses issued in South Dakota this year. Her campaign online store sells shirts that say “Less Covid, More Hunting.”
President Donald Trump has urged Noem to run for the U.S. Senate, and others have talked of a presidential run. The governor has said she’s not interested in either the Senate or the presidency in 2024, but that hasn’t stopped her fans from starting a “Draft Kristi Noem for President” Facebook page.
Licensed to carry
It’s no surprise that Mace, the newly elected representative in South Carolina, is familiar with firearms, with her distinction as the first woman to graduate from The Citadel, the military college of South Carolina. She has also talked about her memories of going on quail hunts with her dad as a child.
A single mother of two, it’s unclear how accomplished a markswoman Mace is, but she recently wrote on Twitter that she had qualified for a concealed carry permit. She has said that she believes “the debate over gun rights and gun control ended with the Second Amendment,” and her website features a photo of her holding a gun on the page that explains her Second Amendment support.
A cultural divide
Republicans, of course, aren’t the only politicians to be photographed with guns and in hunting attire. The Atlantic once ran a roundup of political figures posing with guns, to include Democrats Bill Clinton, John Kerry and Joe Manchin. In another article in the magazine, writer Ruth Graham recounted a history of political leaders and hunting. George Washington, Graham wrote, was said to be a regular fox hunter long before Teddy Roosevelt went on his celebrated safaris.
“Grover Cleveland, too, wrote a book about fishing and hunting. Calvin Coolidge and Herbert Hoover were passionate fishermen, Dwight Eisenhower was an avid fisher and hunter, and Harry Truman went deer hunting with his fellow senators. Through much of the 20th century, it would be hard to find a president who wasn’t at least a little interested in hunting,” Graham wrote.
But all the hunters and pseudo-hunters Graham listed (including brief mention of Utah Sen. Mitt Romney), only one was a woman: former vice-presidential nominee Sarah Palin, included for her support of aerial wolf hunting.
In fact, Palin is something of the matriarch of the new generation of gun-toting GOP women: She was frequently photographed holding guns, sometimes besides animals she had killed, leading the Christian Science Monitor to point out how Palin’s hunting and familiarity with guns illustrates America’s urban-rural divide.
Guns are a part of America’s culture war, and the success of candidates such as Boebert and Noem show that. Despite a recent increase in the number of Americans who want stricter gun laws, there remains a deep partisan divide on gun issues.
According to Pew Research, 86% of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents say gun laws should be stricter, compared to 31% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents.
Full-throated support of gun liberties, however, is more common among men than women, Pew has found. Sixty-four percent of women favor stricter gun laws, compared with 55% of men, according to a 2019 survey.
But that could be changing. Gun sales were up in 2020, fueled in part by increases in first-time purchases by Black Americans and by women, according to the National Shooting Sports Foundation. Four in 10 purchases by first-time gun buyers were made by women last year, the foundation said.
Those buyers will likely connect with images like the one Crystal Diamond, a state senator in New Mexico, has on her website. The photo shows Diamond wearing pink ear protectors while aiming a pink-and-black handgun, and the website says the senator is a staunch Second Amendment supporter both for family protection and for sports.
“Unlike urban legislators, she recognizes that emergency response times in rural communities is delayed and families must have the power to protect their homes and loved ones from harm,” Diamond’s website says. “When it comes to defending our God-given rights, Crystal will always fight to protect our constitutional rights to bear arms and traditions New Mexico sportsmen enjoy.”