(Updated) NRA president backs Tommy Thompson, who opposed concealed carry

Matt K. Lewis Senior Contributor
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Former American Conservative Union Chairman David Keene ruffled feathers recently when he endorsed former Wisconsin Governor Tommy Thompson for U.S. Senate, calling him “my friend, political ally and fellow conservative.”

The conservative Club for Growth — a group critical of Thompson’s “big tax and spending increases” — promptly responded by reminding everyone that Keene had also backed former Pennsylvania Sen. Arlen Specter over conservative Sen. (and former Club president) Pat Toomey.

Clearly, fiscal conservatives found Keene’s endorsement objectionable. But it turns out that Second Amendment fans might also have reason to question it.

The problem is that Keene is now president of the National Rifle Association (NRA). And it turns out that as governor, Thompson opposed a concealed carry law in Wisconsin. (Interestingly, thanks to Gov. Scott Walker, Wisconsin will become the 49th state to implement a concealed carry law this November).

Concealed carry is an important issue for the NRA. Just weeks ago, writing at The Daily Caller, the NRA-ILA’s Chris Cox. wrote in favor of a related issue, “The National Right-to-Carry Reciprocity Act (H.R. 822),” arguing that its passage would mean “law-abiding citizen can carry a firearm without having to navigate an overly restrictive — and in some cases intentionally impossible — bureaucratic process.”

It seems odd that a sitting president of the NRA would make such a high-profile endorsement in a U.S. Senate race on behalf of a candidate who, as governor, opposed the rights of citizens to carry concealed arms. (At the time, 48 other states allowed it.)

Reached for comment, Andrew Arulanandam, the NRA’s Director of Public Affairs, told me that Keene’s support of Thompson is “a personal endorsement,” adding: “It has nothing to do with the National Rifle Association.”

Update: David Keene responds:

I have discussed concealed carry with Tommy. He was wrong in 1999, but changed his position as more and more states passed it without the negative results then being predicted by many in the law enforcement community. He was glad when Wisconsin passed it this year and is applying for his permit.

Tommy is a lifelong friend and in spite of this received the NRA endorsement in all his races for Governor. He’s a hunter, gun owner and sportsman as well as an NRA member. My endorsement of him at this stage of the campaign, however, was a personal endorsement. NRA  institutional endorsements come later.

I am proud to call Tommy a friend and have not only endorsed him, but will help him raise finds and campaign for him in Wisconsin!

Matt K. Lewis