LAS VEGAS — Not since Mitt Romney’s 2007 appearance has a more high-profile presidential candidate visited the National Shooting Sports Foundation’s annual Shooting, Hunting, Outdoor, and Trade show, otherwise known as “SHOT Show.”
But on Thursday, real estate mogul Donald J. Trump shocked attendees with an appearance on stage at the Outdoor and Sportsman Channels’ 16th annual “Outdoor Sportsman” awards.
During his appearance on stage, Trump racked up an endorsement from Duck Dynasty’s Willie Robertson and told the battery of gun owners and manufacturers about his commitment to preserving the right to own firearms, saying:
“My two sons, for many many years, they’ve loved hunting. They’ve loved the outdoors. I do also but I’ve been working so hard I don’t get to go out anymore.”
Of his headline-making endorsement from the Duck Dynasty star, Trump added:
“And I have to tell you, I wanna thank Willie. Willie is an amazing guy. He’s a friend of ours and just incredible.”
Prior to the appearance, Donald Trump Jr. made his father’s case at the awards show. Telling the crowd that he and Eric would hold a significant amount of influence, Donald Jr. advocated for the federal government’s retainment of large swaths of lands:
“We’re going to keep public lands public, keep them open. We’re not going to sell them to the states so they can be privatized.”
And Trump’s waltz on stage in the Venetian theater, coinciding with SHOT show, was the only one made by a presidential candidate this election cycle.
A source close to the NSSF told Independent Journal Review that all of the GOP candidates were invited to attend the weeklong trade show, except for New Jersey governor Chris Christie. “Because of his record,” the source said.
Christie spokesperson Samantha Smith later confirmed the campaign did not receive an invite.
Separate from the awards ceremony, the SHOT show annually draws thousands of attendees ranging from typical gun owners looking to see the latest firearms to hit the market, to manufacturers attempting to stand out among the competition.
Among the attendees were Trump’s sons, Donald Jr. and Eric, who mingled with the crowd at the Sig Sauer exhibit Thursday morning.
While Trump’s appearance at SHOT is unique, taking strong positions on the 2nd Amendment is everything but in the 2016 election cycle.
Gun policy and gun violence have flung back into the national conversation, more so than past presidential races. Democrats are avidly debating ways to curb firearm ownership as a means of stemming the tide of gun violence, while Republicans are unveiling full-fledged position papers on how they intend to preserve gun rights.
Trump’s 2nd Amendment position paper takes some of the boldest reforms to strengthen gun rights across the United States.
His plan embraces ideas for which gun rights advocates have a tremendous affinity, such as instituting a nationwide right to carry, which would treat concealed weapons permits in the same way driver’s licenses operate by allowing the user to travel from state to state with impunity.
Another element of Trump’s gun plan includes an implementation of a program similar to Virginia’s “Project Exile,” which prevents individuals who have committed gun-related crimes from receiving parole or early release, in addition to minimum prison sentences of five years.
All of these proposals experienced some praise from attendees, despite Trump’s past support of the “assault weapons” ban.
But on stage in Las Vegas and in the midst of final stretch toward the Iowa caucuses, Trump took a simpler tone in his commitment to gun rights. “So I just wanna say the 2nd Amendment is one-hundred percent protected. One-hundred percent,” he said.
Editor’s note: This article was updated after publication.