Dan Coats, Gun Control and the Indiana Senate Primary

The national Republican country club crowd experienced a wave of euphoria when former Sen. Dan Coats announced that he would run against Sen. Evan Bayh in the 2010 election.

Bayh, who not long ago enjoyed unassailable popularity in the Hoosier State, is suddenly viewed as vulnerable since his vote for, among other things, the massive anti-gun health care overhaul.

But Dan Coats does not come into the race without baggage of his own. 

Political pundits have already pointed out the obvious; that Coats gave up his seat rather than face Bayh in the 1998 election, and that, working as a D.C. lobbyist, Coats took up residency in Northern Virginia for a number of years and had to reestablish Indiana residency in order to run.

These may be minor problems for Coats, however, compared with his votes for gun control during his ten years in the U.S. Senate.

In 1991, during the George H.W. Bush administration, Coats voted for a gun control-laden “crime bill” that included the so-called Brady Bill (a waiting period for handgun purchases) as well as a ban on semi-automatic firearms.

In 1993, Coats cast another vote for the Brady bill, which was signed into law by then-President Bill Clinton.  He also voted for another ban on many semi-automatic firearms, both as a stand-alone amendment and again as part of the infamous 1994 Clinton crime bill.

The passage of such sweeping anti-Second Amendment measures created a political earthquake in the 1994 elections, and the gun control agenda has been a lightning rod ever since.

Coats’ votes for gun control puts him in stark contrast to former Rep. John Hostettler, who served in the U.S. House from 1995-2007.

As soon as he came into office, Rep. Hostettler pushed legislation—introduced at the urging of Gun Owners of America—to repeal both the Brady law and the Clinton gun ban.

In 1997, Rep. Hostettler supported legislation to repeal the Lautenberg Misdemeanor Gun Ban, a law that has subjected hundreds of thousands of people to a lifetime gun ban for “offenses” as slight as getting into a shouting match with a spouse.

When it was discovered that the federal government was keeping the names of lawful gun purchasers (compiled under the Brady law) on a computer database for “auditing purposes,” Rep. Hostettler supported legislation to require the immediate destruction of background check records.

Rep. Hostettler also authored a bill to allow for concealed carry reciprocity among the states.  Unlike other bills dealing with reciprocity, which would have created “national standards” for concealed carry, Rep. Hostettler’s bill respected states’ rights and the Constitution.

In 2000, President Bill Clinton entered into a deal with gun maker Smith & Wesson that, completely bypassing the Constitution and the Congress, would have imposed a host of restrictions on all gun owners—such as no private sales at gun shows, handgun purchasing limits, another semi-automatic firearm ban, and much more.

Working with GOA, Rep. Hostettler took the lead in dismantling the “Clinton & Wesson” anti-gun deal by authoring an amendment not to fund the “Oversight Commission” on which the deal relied.

In the wake of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, while many in Washington were busy spending billions of dollars creating more bureaucracy like the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), Rep. Hostettler pushed for the arming of commercial airline pilots.

After the armed pilots legislation passed and was signed into law in 2002, federal bureaucrats dragged their feet in implementing the program.  Rep. Hostettler rallied 60 of his colleagues to join him in petitioning then-FAA Chairmen Norman Mineta to move the program forward expeditiously.

During his time in Washington, gun owners across the country could not have asked for a better friend of the Second Amendment than John Hostettler.  Dan Coats, on the other hand, left gun owners high and dry when their backs were to the wall in the early 1990s.

Given Senator Bayh’s recent unpopularity, it does not come as a surprise that his poll numbers are dismal.  Coats, who has higher name identification than Hostettler, edged out the incumbent Senator in a recent Rasmussen poll by three points.  But same survey also found Hostettler narrowly trailing Bayh, and within the margin of error.

National Republicans were giddy at having recruited Coats out of retirement, but maybe they still have not learned the lesson that gun control is a losing issue at the polls.  This is especially true in a state like Indiana, where politicians from either party support gun control at their own peril.

With John Hostettler in the race, and with him neck-and-neck with Bayh, it is doubtful that Second Amendment supporters would settle for the hand-picked Washington establishment candidate in the Republican primary.

Tim Macy is Vice Chairman of Gun Owners of America, a national pro-Second Amendment organization with over 300,000 members.