A notorious pro-gun group is taking shots at Donald Trump—and may have found a way to damage the Republican frontrunner.
At his rollicking rally in Burlington, Vermont on Thursday, Trump pledged that on his very first day in the Oval Office he would sign an executive order declaring that all schools and military installations would no longer be “gun-free zones.”
“It gets signed my first day,” he said to over 6,000 supporters at the conclusion of the event. “You know what a gun-free zone is to a sicko? That’s bait.”
Trump says it’s necessary to end gun free zones due to the recent spate of terrorist attacks, such as those in Paris and California. Yet Trump properties around the country are designated gun free zones, which caught the attention of Gun Owners of America, a fervent pro-gun group.
“Gun Owners of America is on a mission to put the 2nd Amendment on offense by expanding the right of responsible citizens to carry firearms,” the group said in a statement provided exclusively to The Daily Beast. “Republican candidate Donald Trump has been an outspoken advocate to repeal gun free zones that only serve to provide ‘soft targets’ for our enemies and the dangerously insane to exploit.”
The group noted that at the CNBC debate last year, where Trump bragged about being one of the few New York City residents to have a concealed carry permit, but asked him point-blank if he would end the gun free designation at his properties.
“We called a few Trump resorts, a few Trump properties that do not allow guns with or without a permit. Would you change those policies?” moderator Carl Quintanilla asked.
“I would change them,” Trump tersely replied.
Yet so far the policies haven’t been reversed on Trump properties. “If Donald Trump wants to earn the support of gun owners, he needs to follow through on that promise,” the group’s statement continued.
Gun Owners of America endorsed Ted Cruz in September in part, the group said, because he was the only candidate who “completed and returned the GOA presidential survey on the Second Amendment.” They describe the first-term Texas senator as someone who will be a “stalwart defender of the Second Amendment in the White House” and “will help shoulder the burden of fighting against the gun grabbers dedicated to eviscerating the Second Amendment.”
Cruz has overtaken Trump in the first in the nation caucus state of Iowa, but has refrained from challenging Trump, presumably so Cruz can inherit those voters should the Trump phenomenon fade.
But the criticism from the GOA could symbolize a new turn in the race, as they are the first Cruz-backed group to directly take on the real estate magnate, challenging him from a populist, talk-show-influenced right flank. For his part, Cruz has touted the GOA’s endorsement, saying at a CNN debate that he won their support for opposing new background checks in the wake of the massacre of school children in Newtown, Connecticut.
“I was honored to be endorsed by Gun Owners of America as the strongest supporter of the Second Amendment on the stage today,” Cruz said.
GOA, which boasts over 300,000 members, was founded in 1975 and has largely served as a foil to the much larger National Rifle Association, which the group accuses of being too willing to compromise on the issue of gun rights. In 2008, for example, the group was vociferous in their criticism of NRA-endorsed Republican nominee John McCain, whom they described as a “liberal gun grabber.” The group gave him a D- rating.
The GOA has been criticized by even some Second Amendment supporters for its extremism and for the ties some of its leadership have to white extremist outfits. But by prodding Trump on the policies of his properties, the group is also calling attention to a fact that has largely gone unremarked upon in the 2016 presidential race: many of the locations that bear the real estate mogul’s name are not in fact run by him and use his name strictly for marketing purposes.
This is not a new issue for Trump. He’s faced lawsuits from buyers at three-separate Trump-branded properties who say that he misled them into believing that he was the developer of them. But as the New York Times reported in 2011, when the planned buildings encountered financial trouble, it became clear that Trump merely rented his name to the developments and had no responsibility for what then became of them, allowing Trump to keep the licensing fees while the would-be buyers lost their deposits.
A number of Trump properties in which the Republican presidential front-runner does still own remain gun-free zones, among them Trump International Hotel and Tower in Chicago, Trump National Gulf Club in Los Angeles and Trump International Hotel Waikiki Beach Walk in Honolulu.
A spokesperson for the Trump campaign did not return a request for comment.