Amash shows libertarian leanings on guns, campaign finance

By: - August 27, 2019 4:42 am

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash at New Holland Brewing in Grand Rapids | Nick Manes

U.S. Rep. Justin Amash (I-Cascade Twp.) garnered no shortage of liberal support following his calls for the impeachment of President Donald Trump and his decision to ditch the Republican Party and become an independent. 

But when it comes to topics like gun control and money in politics, Amash’s libertarian viewpoints remain steadfast — and were firmly on display during a recent tour of his 3rd Congressional District in the Grand Rapids area, rankling some of his more progressive constituents. 

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During the Grand Rapids stops last week, several people called on Amash to lend his support to further gun control regulations, such as universal background checks, “red flag” laws and assault weapons bans. 

Amash, however, seems unlikely to lend his support to those types of measures. He voted against two gun reform measures, H.R. 8 and H.R 1112, which passed the Democratic-led U.S. House in February.

“The things that are being proposed will not solve the problem [of mass shootings],” Amash told constituents at a Grand Rapids coffee shop. “I do think that we need to do a better job of recognizing who is a risk, but that’s mostly a family and local thing.”

Red flag legislation, which allows courts to temporarily seize weapons if someone can be proven to be a threat, passed the U.S. House and also has been proposed in Michigan. However, Amash said they deny people due process under the law. 

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One Amash constituent reportedly left one of the congressman’s events last week early due to frustration that he wouldn’t commit to taking action on firearms. 

Somewhat similarly, several constituents asked Amash about the role that money plays in politics. There too, the congressman wears his libertarian ideals on his sleeve, sharing that he believes that attempts to curtail political spending amounts to a violation of the First Amendment, particularly given that the U.S. Supreme Court has deemed money to be a form of speech. 

Amash sought to downplay the notion that the National Rifle Association (NRA), the powerful pro-gun lobby, has politicians bought and paid for, thereby blocking any regulations. 

The Trace, an independent news outlet covering American gun violence, reported that as of last year Amash had a rating of “B-” from the NRA and the group has not endorsed the congressman. Amash told constituents that he once received a $1,000 donation from the NRA’s political action committee during his time in Congress and sent it back. 

“I really couldn’t care less what the NRA thinks about this issue,” Amash said, noting that he disagrees with the group on several policy matters.

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Of course, Amash isn’t alone when it comes to hearing about concerns over gun violence. Constituents of U.S. Sen. Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) also reportedly gave her an earful on their desire for more gun control measures during a town hall this month. 

A Reuters/Ipsos poll earlier this year found that almost 70% of Americans — including more than half of Republicans — want additional gun control measures, but only a small handful of people actually expect Congress to act. 

Ultimately, Amash tied his opposition to gun control measures back to his broader, long-time issue with Congress and why he perceives it as broken: Political leaders ignore long-held process measures and instead seek to take politically expedient measures. 

“We want all these things, but then we don’t want to follow process,” Amash said. 

“There are hundreds of millions of guns in the United States. We as a people —  not everyone — but we as people in the culture, believe in the right to keep and bear arms,” he continued. “And I don’t think that’s going to change anytime soon. We’re not a people who decided that only the government should have guns or most of the guns should be held by government. That’s not something we decided as part of our history.”

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Following one of the events, the Advance asked Amash for his thoughts on a bill proposed in the state House that would ban any flags other than official U.S. and state flags. 

Lynn Afendoulis | Nick Manes

The legislation was introduced by state Rep. Lynn Afendoulis (R-Grand Rapids Twp.), who’s running for Amash’s seat and was introduced just weeks after Gov. Gretchen Whitmer — who has already threatened a veto of the bill if it makes to her desk — flew an LGBTQ Pride flag from the governor’s office building. 

Amash told the Advance that he thought the legislation was “ridiculous.”

Afendoulis did not return requests for comment.

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Nick Manes
Nick Manes

Nick Manes is a former Michigan Advance reporter, covering West Michigan, business and labor, health care and the safety net. He previously spent six years as a reporter at MiBiz covering commercial real estate, economic development and all manner of public policy at the local and state levels.