Gun control was barely an issue in the 2012 campaign.
But after last week’s tragic shooting in Newtown, Conn., it’s back in the national conversation, and if Democrats push as hard as they’ve promised, it will turn into an issue that every presidential prospect will have to contend with.
Florida Sen. Marco Rubio: As a member of the state Legislature, he supported one of the most controversial gun measures to date: Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law, which allows residents to defend themselves when unlawfully threatened.
Opponents called the law an invitation to “shoot first,” while proponents say it’s a matter of self-defense and -protection.
But that doesn’t mean Rubio is the apple of the NRA’s eye. The gun-rights group gave him a B+ in 2010, and in a recent biography, author Manuel Rogi-Franzia recounted how a lobbyist for the group accused Rubio of not being a reliable friend as Speaker of Florida’s state House.
Soon after the Newtown shootings, Rubio did, indeed, seem ready to reassess gun laws. His spokesman released a statement suggesting that the Florida senator “supports a serious and comprehensive study of our laws to find new and better ways to prevent any more mass shootings.”
Of course, that’s no guarantee of a Rubio shift toward the center, but it’s also not a reflexive reel against any new gun legislation.
Wisconsin Rep. Paul Ryan: Ryan talked about guns fairly frequently as the GOP vice presidential nominee.
In September, his 10-year-old daughter became eligible to hunt, so he bought camouflage clothing for her while on the campaign trail.
And, in an interview with The Washington Times, his brother-in-law revealed that Ryan owned a rifle, shotgun and 9 mm Glock. The former two guns are for hunting, the latter for home defense.
Meanwhile, as a legislator, Ryan has racked up a series of NRA-friendly votes. He supported instant background checks for those buying a gun at gun shows (as opposed to the normal three-day waiting period), voted to let non-residents take concealed firearms across state lines and voted to protect gun-makers from certain lawsuits.
That was enough to earn him an A from the NRA — a score he noted he was “proud” of in an interview with The Daily Caller.
New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie: Of the top three GOP contenders, he sports the most moderate record on guns.
He opposed the “right-to-carry reciprocity” that lets non-residents carry concealed weapons into other states, and during his 2009 campaign for governor, Christie told Fox News “there’s a big handgun problem in New Jersey” and that he backed “some of the gun-control measures” in the state.
Since becoming governor, Christie has moved squarely to the center on gun control, angering both some conservatives and progressives.
New Jersey has extraordinarily tough laws regulating guns and — to conservatives’ displeasure — Christie has praised those laws more than once; to progressives’ displeasure, he’s argued the state doesn’t need any more.
And soon after the Aurora, Colo., shooting this year, Christie again squashed the idea of stricter gun control, accusing advocates of “political grandstanding.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo: He was one of the first politicians to call for more gun control in the wake of last Friday’s shooting.
“Let this terrible tragedy finally be the wake-up call for aggressive action, and I pledge my full support in that effort,” his statement read.
But that aggressive action, he claimed, needed to come from the federal government, not state government.
“People can buy a gun somewhere else and drive it in [to New York],” he said, according to the New York Observer, at a news conference.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: Her husband is famous for signing the landmark Brady Bill in 1993, and her own link with the cause is strong. According to her memoir, the Columbine shootings served as an inspirations behind her Senate run.
As both a senator from New York and later, as secretary of State, she’s supported a reinstatement of the assault-weapons ban that expired in 2004 — an issue at ground zero in the fight over guns.
But she moderated on other measures when she ran for president in 2008.
As a senator, she supported legislation calling for a national gun registry — a liberal position that wasn’t even remotely politically risky in a state like New York. But when she launched her bid for president, she reversed course and said she no longer favored a national registry.
Her rhetoric also seemed to change.
“What might work in New York City is certainly not going to work in Montana. So for the federal government to be having any kind of blanket rules that they’re going to try to impose, I think, doesn’t make sense,” she said in a presidential primary debate in Pennsylvania .
If Clinton runs in 2016, she might have to contend with a Cuomo challenge on the left, and their records on gun control could come under scrutiny.
Vice President Biden: He was the original author of the Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act of 1994, which was signed into law by Bill Clinton and was most famous for banning the manufacture of assault weapons.
And, true to form, he’s been a forceful advocate for gun control since then, checking all the legislative boxes near and dear to the hearts of advocates , ultimately earning him an “F” from the NRA in 2003 while a sitting senator from Delaware.
If Biden runs, the big question is whether he can reconcile his strong support for gun control with his image as the champion of a working class that often distrusts gun-control measures.
Heinze, the founder of GOP12.com, is a member of staff at The Hill. Find his column, GOP Presidential Primary, on thehill.com