So far, we’ve looked at Donald Trump and Ben Carson in our series investigating whether Republican presidential candidates are really pro-gun. Finally, we’re getting to the professional politicians so we can inspect their actual voting records. Will their walk be consistent with their talk?
Along with Trump and Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio seems to be in the top three for the race. How does the Cuban American and US Senator from the great state of Florida stack up when it comes to gun rights?
What he says
Senator Rubio takes a direct approach to linking gun rights to personal protection, at least according to his campaign website. “New gun laws will do nothing to deter criminals from obtaining firearms; they will simply be ignored by those who wish to do harm. Meanwhile, new restrictions will infringe on the rights of good, law-abiding Americans who wish to have a gun for hunting, sport, or, most important, the protection of their families.”
Personally, I love the fact that he gets the idea that, by very definition, laws don’t apply to criminals. If they followed laws, then they wouldn’t be very good criminals, would they?
There’s an infinite supply of recent political rhetoric about gun control. The President is frustrated because Congress won’t take action. Congress won’t take action because the majority of the country opposes new gun control efforts. John Q. Public appears to be clued into the fact that gun control is no way to fight violent crime, much less the growing threat of terrorism right here at home.
Rubio is pretty clear on the legality of executive action with respect to guns. “The President has no right to restrict the individual right to own a firearm. Yet President Obama’s two terms — with failed attempts at ammunition bans, new restrictions on personal gun sales, and more — has attempted to chip away at the Second Amendment. Hillary Clinton has promised to redouble President Obama’s efforts.”
The fact that he clearly calls out the fact that the executive branch of the United States government has no legal right to restrict firearm ownership is encouraging. He’s putting a stake in the ground now that he’ll be somewhat obligated to follow should he ever become President of the United States. Then again, did previous promises ever stop a politician from flip-flopping?
It’s also encouraging to see that Rubio looks to address causes of violence rather than zero in on the tools. He seems to reject the gun control mantra that people will behave if only they don’t have access to objects that they can use to do bad things. “The horrific mass shootings should prompt us to ask what causes people to commit these acts — like what can be done to improve the way we treat serious mental illness — rather than seize on the weapons they used.”
How he’s voted
According to the Rubio campaign, he puts his money where his mouth is. In their words:
“Marco has fought to protect the Second Amendment by:
- Voting to block the Manchin-Bloomberg expansion of background checks
- Fighting to defund the Department of Justice’s radical “Operation Choke Point” and other federal attacks on law-abiding gun manufacturers and dealers
- Pushing to bring fundamental Second Amendment rights back to D.C. residents
- Protecting the Second Amendment rights of veterans and their families
- Standing against any federal attempt to ban commonly owned sporting rifles and standard capacity magazines
Pushing to make concealed-carry permits function like drivers’ licenses, so gun owners’ constitutional rights don’t end at state lines
- Opposing U.S. involvement in the U.N. Arms Trade Treaty
- Working to expand opportunities for sportsmen on federal lands”
I see a lot of “pushing” and “opposing” words in there, but what does that really mean? To find out, let’s dig into his voting record.
Rubio’s biggest string of gun-related votes happened on April 17, 2013. On that day, he voted against three different bills that proposed to ban the sale of “assault weapons,” limit magazine capacities, and expand background checks to include currently legal private sales. All three measures failed. On the same day, he also voted in favor of national concealed carry reciprocity. That bill failed in a 57-43 Senate vote.
A few weeks prior, Rubio voted to prohibit the United States from entering into a legally binding United Nations small arms treaty. That measure succeeded in a 53-46 vote. Essentially, this legislation would have bound the United States to small arms policies decided on by the epicenter of global wisdom that is the United Nations.
While serving as Speaker of the Florida House of Representatives, Rubio voted in favor of legislation that banned employers from prohibiting the storage of firearms in their private vehicles while at work. That measure passed. However, the path to victory was not all roses. The previous year, again as Speaker, Rubio declined to take a public position of support on a similar bill that died on the vine and never came to a vote. As a result, his NRA “A” rating, maintained from 2000 through 2006, fell to a B+ rating.
Rubio has taken some flack for his voting absence record. According to GovTrack, in 2014, his absent voting percentage was 6.8 percent, placing him in the top 15 percent of the most-absent Senators on the floor that year. In 2015, his absentee record skyrocketed to 34 percent. To compare that, then-Senator Barack Obama racked up an absentee record of 37.6 percent and 64 percent in 2007 and 2008 respectively during his Presidential campaign. That seems to be a key strategy for Congress members preparing for a Presidential run, but it’s a rotten excuse not to continue to take stands on issues, whatever they are. I couldn’t find evidence of the absentee issue allowing him to duck any important gun rights legislation, however.
Our best guess
Venturing into personal opinion territory, I think Senator Rubio is an ardent supporter of Second Amendment rights. His long-term rhetoric is on target, and his overall record is solid. Yes, he burped back in 2007 during his tenure as Florida House Speaker. I suspect he ran smack into the harsh reality of backroom politics, but we’ll probably never really know what happened. In the end, the result was almost as good, and Rubio threw in his support for a successful measure.
Tom McHale is the author of the Insanely Practical Guides book series that guides new and experienced shooters alike in a fun, approachable, and practical way. His books are available in print and eBook format on Amazon.
Featured image created using Marco Rubio image by Gage Skidmore on the Wikimedia Commons and gun shop wall image from Michael Saechang on flickr