Where do Donald Trump’s Potential Running Mates Stand on the Second Amendment and Gun Policy?

Presidents have a fascinating history with regard to firearms and gun regulation—including actions taken at the state level and personal experiences using firearms for hunting and self-defense (for more on the historical context, see our series on Presidential Firearms here, here, and here).  While recent developments in the courts, including the Supreme Court’s upcoming decision in Cargill and its decision next term in VanDerStok, seem certain to impact the scope of executive power to construe federal firearms legislation, gun issues remain top of mind heading into the heart of election season and the first presidential debate next month. 

President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris are a relatively known quantity in this regard.  Over the past several years, the Biden administration has acted through ATF to regulate ghost guns and pistol braces—with both rules facing legal challenges that are ongoing.  The administration has also created the first federal Office of Gun Violence Prevention and established a National Extreme Risk Protection Order Resource Center, both intended to implement provisions of the 2022 Bipartisan Safer Communities Act (“BSCA”).  The Biden administration also recently expanded federal background checks relying on a definitional change in BSCA. 

Donald Trump had a mixed record on firearms in his first term.  Trump took certain deregulatory actions but also moved to ban bump stock devices through ATF (that rule is the subject of the Cargill case) and at times expressed support for “red flag” laws.  With Trump poised to select his vice-presidential running mate for the 2024 election, this post briefly summarizes where a number of the leading contenders stand on gun issues.  The list is by no means exhaustive and draws primarily from a recent NY Magazine article regarding Trump’s most likely running mates. 

Katie Britt – U.S. Senator from Alabama

Britt, who delivered the Republican response to President Biden’s State of the Union address in March, assumed elected office for the first time in January 2023.  As a Senate candidate in 2022, Britt decried the advancement of a federal red flag law.  She said that “[g]un grabbers use so-called ‘red flag laws’ as a gateway to push their disarming agenda” and argued that red flag laws are “an abridgment of the Second Amendment and can be abused to take away the right to self-defense with no due process.”  She also pledged to introduce a bill removing federal funding from any state “that implements an unlawful and unconstitutional red flag law.”  Following the 2022 Uvalde shooting, Britt was quoted as emphasizing “affordable access to quality mental health care” and promising to “introduce legislation to ensure states have the resources needed to have an armed police officer in each and every school across our nation.”

Doug Burgum – Governor of North Dakota

Burgum has touted his early experience with firearms and his high rating from the NRA.  He has signed a permitless carry bill into law, designated North Dakota a “Second Amendment sanctuary state,” and emphasized that “the State of North Dakota will stand against federal overreach and attempts to limit rights to own and use guns.”  Burgum also signed a measure designed to bar financial institutions from requiring a gun-specific code for any firearm-related transaction.

Marjorie Taylor Greene – U.S. Representative from Georgia

Greene is perhaps one of the most aggressively vociferous politicians currently serving on the issue of gun rights and the Second Amendment—even promoting a podcast with a graphic showing herself in front of the U.S. Capitol wielding a high-powered rifle.  Greene has lashed out publicly against red flag laws, including labeling the new National ERPO Resource Center an “[o]peration that the DOJ will be running by using EVERY spy tool the US government has in order to violate American’s [sic] Second Amendment!!”  After the Nashville shooting in March 2023, Greene tweeted that “Joe Biden’s gun free school zones have endangered children at schools leaving them as innocent targets of sick horrible disturbed people.”  And she has a history of aggressively confronting leaders of gun violence prevention groups.  Greene has referenced an incident that occurred at her Georgia high school in 1990, in which a classmate entered the school with firearms and held students hostage for hours, as shaping her views on gun regulation and school safety.

Kristi Noem – Governor of South Dakota (former U.S. Representative from South Dakota and South Dakota state representative)

Noem has recently come under intense criticism from both sides of the aisle for describing in a new autobiography how she shot a young hunting dog after it performed poorly and attacked a neighbor’s chickens.  Noem suggested in a 2023 speech at an NRA forum that her two-year-old grandchild already had a number of firearms.  As governor, she signed a permitless carry bill into law in 2019 and has endorsed various other deregulatory measures.  In 2023, after California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a sales tax on firearms and ammunition into law, Noem tweeted that California gunmakers should consider moving to South Dakota.

Marcio Rubio – U.S. Senator from Florida (former Florida state representative)

Rubio ultimately voted against BSCA, stating that “the constitutional protections in the package are inadequate.”  Following the Uvalde shooting in 2022, Rubio stressed mental illness as a root cause while also emphasizing the importance of red flag laws at the state level and school safety (he said that, “in Florida, with the red flag law, we’ve potentially prevented some of these [incidents] from happening”).  Rubio had earlier spoken out in favor of red flag laws while noting that the laws must, in his view, require proof by “clear and convincing [evidence, which is] a high standard because you're taking away a constitutional right.”  In a 2018 town hall meeting following the Parkland shooting, Rubio expressed tentative support for age restrictions and large-capacity magazine bans.

Sarah Huckabee Sanders – Governor of Arkansas (former White House Press Secretary)

Sanders signed a permitless carry bill into law in 2023.  In her role as White House Press Secretary in 2017, Sanders was involved in the Trump administration’s initial response to the Las Vegas shooting.  She focused on the high rate of gun crime in Chicago—despite Illinois’ strict gun laws—as suggesting that additional regulation was not necessarily the answer.  During a subsequent press conference in the wake of the Parkland shooting, in response to a student question regarding lockdown drills and gun violence, Sanders emphasized the importance of school safety measures.

Tim Scott – U.S. Senator from South Carolina (former U.S. Representative from South Carolina and South Carolina state representative)

Scott voted against BSCA in June 2022, but he voted in favor of the “no fly, no buy” legislation that was introduced but not enacted in 2016-2017.  After being elected to the Senate in 2012, Scott said in an interview that “mental illness should be a major part of the [gun control] conversation going forward,” as opposed to “new legislation.”  Scott made similar comments in a 2018 interview where he also discussed the 2015 Charleston shooting (Scott is a Charleston native) and opined that the gun-show loophole that allowed the Charleston shooter to obtain his weapon was closed by the 2017 Fix NICS Act.  He expressed positivity at the time about the direction of federal action in this area and also said that legislation banning bump stocks would likely “sail through Congress.” 

Elise Stefanik – U.S. Representative from New York

Stefanik’s website touts her support for Second Amendment rights, including an A+ rating from the NRA and her “work[] to pass the Concealed-Carry Reciprocity Act, the Fix NICS Act, and [] legislation aimed at promoting protections for law-abiding citizens while increasing mental health resources and keeping firearms out of the hands of criminals.”  She has also introduced legislation to ban the use of gun-specific merchant codes by credit card companies, arguing that such codes are unconstitutional.  Stefanik opposed BSCA, and she has urged New York Governor Kathy Hochul to halt enforcement of certain state-level gun regulation.  Stefanik’s husband, Matthew Manda, was (and is perhaps still) employed as manager of public affairs for the National Shooting Sports Foundation—a major industry lobbying group also involved in Second Amendment and gun litigation.

J.D. Vance – U.S. Senator from Ohio

Vance opposed BSCA, noting that in his view “the red flag laws, in particular, they certainly are a slippery slope [and t]hey also don’t solve the problem of gun violence.”  In contrast to other potential running mates, who often speak of gun violence in terms of mental illness as a root cause, Vance has focused on “inner-city crime” and insufficiently aggressive law enforcement.  In a Senate debate in 2022, Vance expressed support for lowering the required training for Ohio teachers to carry concealed firearms in the classroom.